Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller

I let this one sift down to the bottom of my stack so many times that I used up all my renewals and still accumulated library fees. It just didn't look good.

I need to get something out before I start my review.

It was hard not to imagine this book being handed out in Beavis and Butt-head's English class.

"He said 'bossom!' Hehehe." 

Lamb in His Bossom
by Caroline Miller
1934 Pulitzer Prize
5 stars - will read again

Nothing really happens in this book. People live, they die, day to day. So why five stars?

Loyal readers know that I am a big fan of books about the ordinary. Books where people just live their lives, surrounded by events of import to them, but of little note to the world at large.

The setting for this story is a farm community in southern Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War. The Civil War itself plays a small role. It doesn't touch the characters other than having their men conscripted into the army to fight a war that has nothing to do with them. World events. So much happening so far away that somehow reaches in to effect our humdrum existences.

Two things made this book a pleasure for me.

The first is that it highlights how most of us will live and die as extras in the drama of life, combined with the reminder that the human condition changes little from one generation to the next (you might think that is two things, but I'm only counting one).

Strip out the technological advances and you are left with people putting one foot in front of the other and dealing with family issues, sassy teenagers, aging parents, dreams lost, wishes unfulfilled, simple pleasures in the every day.

The second thing is noting how much the world has changed (even though our previous labors and worries have only been replaced with new worries and equal, but different, labor). I can't shake the child birthing statistics. The main character, Cean, has 14 children in 17 years (sure, two are in sets of twins, so she was technically "only" pregnant for 10 years). Are you freakin' kidding me? When her husband finally dies, a part of her is relieved that she won't have to go through that again (a thought which comes with no small amount of guilt).

Change, too, in how people die. For the most part, ugly. A small wound can lead to life ending infection. People who develop physical or mental handicaps are constrained to their bed where family cares for them for as many years as they can hang on. It isn't pretty.

Ms. Miller used a surprising (for the time) literary technique to great effect. The story is not always linear and she sometimes revisited scenes to retell them from a different perspective or to fill in gaps. What impressed me was how seamlessly she accomplished that. There was no setup of "this chapter is now and the next chapter is before" and no headers telling you time and date. Instead, after an extra line break, the story would shift back in time. You might think that would be jarring, but it wasn't. It kind of reminded me of the flow of my own musings and discoveries. Sometimes, out of the blue, I'll revisit a life event or somebody will reveal their perspective on a story of the past.

No quotes. While the writing was good, it was simple, ordinary, like the lives described.

There is an interesting note on the dust cover:

"The success of Lamb in His Bosom and [Ms. Miller's] celebrity after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1934 made it difficult for her to resume her former life in Bazley. She and her husband divorced and she moved to Biloxi, Mississippi..."

Fame. Sigh.


  1. This sounds like my kind of book. I love books about ordinary people and their lives. I will definitely read this one next. I think I will have to go through your five star list because I am having a book block where I can't read a book that really touches me. Thanks for the review. No worries, and love, Carol

  2. It sounds interesting, and a bit like Pillars of the Earth and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I am feeling a bit intrigued by this one!

  3. This sounds good. I'll look it up. Lately I've been enjoying what I call quiet books and this seems to fit in.

  4. Sounds not unlike that book you recommended a while back by Edna Ferber (the name escapes me, but I'll remember as soon as I hit the Publish button). Books about life are nice, especially when they're about life a while ago, before instant communications and whatnot, when people had to live and think on their own.