“How big is my baby?” Selina would demand, senselessly. “How big is my man?” The child would momentarily cease to poke plump fingers into the rich black loam. He would smile a gummy though slightly weary smile and stretch wide his arms. She, too, would open her tired arms wide, wide. Then they would say in a duet, his mouth a puckered pink petal, hers quivering with tenderness and a certain amusement, “So-o-o-o big!” with the voice soaring on the prolonged vowel and dropping suddenly with the second word. – From So Big, page 2 –
Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel – So Big – is a superbly crafted novel and one I could not put down for long.
When Selina Peake’s father is murdered, the teenager is faced with fleeing from the bustling streets of Chicago to Vermont to live with her stuffy aunts; or to strike out on her own to seek a life of adventure. She chooses a life of her own which takes her into the insulated farm country south of Chicago to live with Dutch farmer, his wife and three children. There she discovers the simplicity of farm life while teaching the young children of the community. Selina is brilliantly portrayed – a delicately boned, strong willed woman with sparkling eyes who sees beauty in everything – including the purple and green cabbages which provide sustenance for the hard-working farmers and their families. Even after marrying the solid and reliable Pervus DeLong and finding herself working long and difficult days as a farmer’s wife, Selina never loses her vision of beauty.
Ferber’s novel is not just about Selina’s voyage through life – her struggles and dreams, challenges and triumphs – but it encompasses a larger theme…namely that of living a life of beauty and joy vs. a life of material success. Selina’s enduring spirit and vision of life never fails her throughout the story. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Selina is widowed and facing the failure of her farm. She does what a woman of her community had never done – she drives a team of horses to market on the streets of Chicago.
Selina’s son, Dirk (aka: Sobig) represents the flip side to the life she has chosen. By all definitions, he becomes successful – holding down a high paying job and living among the wealthy. But, Ferber carefully and succinctly shows the reader why this kind of success does not necessarily lead to happiness.
Ferber’s novel has rich characterizations and a strong sense of place. Exquisitely crafted and lovingly plotted, it is story that is worthy of the Pulitzer. I will be reading more of this amazing author’s work in the future.