Children are a way of keeping things, or so I once believed. They plant you to this earth, give you roots to stay a while. – from The Quickening, page 5 –
The Quickening is the story of two women, their connection to the land and to their children…and ultimately to each other. Set in the midwest over a period of more than 30 years, including the desolate years of the Great Depression, Michelle Hoover alternates her novel between the points of view of each of these women.
Enidina (Eddie) Current is a heavy woman who comes to marriage late in life when she is 30 years old. She willingly commits herself to not only her gentle husband Frank, but to the land and farming, and she longs for children. Her story, told in retrospective, becomes a meditation to the grandson she has never met. Mary Morrow, on the other hand, must adjust her expectations when she marries the brutal Jack – a man whose temper evolves into abuse. Mary longs for a civilized life – she wants something better for her sons, but quickly recognizes that is dream which cannot be realized. Mary at first hopes for a friendship with Eddie, but later turns to her religion and the companionship of her soft-spoken pastor for solace.
When my sons were born, when they grew to stand and watch their father cutting like a knife through the fields, I kept them in too – because if anything, I wanted to hold them in that lifted-up place I believed was promised us, in that place where were were better than all the rest and more deserving, and with my sons it would not just be a far-off belief or a kind of pretending. It would be. – from The Quickening, page 22 –
Mary’s desire for a different life changes her over the years. She becomes fiercely protective of her youngest son; and when faced with what she perceives as a threat to her family, she seeks self-preservation over all else.
What I wanted felt like a hunger, rising from my ribs, my throat, starved for something immense, golden. Jack was greater than many a man, but he could give me only sons and mud and butchered meat – I wanted something clean. – from The Quickening, page 32 –
The Quickening is an honest, searing look at life for a farmer’s wife during the Depression years. Drought, poverty, accidents, and petty gossip all take their toll on these two women and their families. At times, the story is simply heartbreaking and bleak. Yet, Hoover’s prose is so true and so empathetically wrought, that it is hard not to keep reading despite the sadness and lack of hope. Hoover’s writing captures the land and the animals, and the gritty endurance of a hard life.
I’ve always had a way with animals, or so others have said. It’s sympathy, I guess. I take what I need. No more. No less. I treat them as creatures that know pain and stillness and the pleasure of a stomach when it’s full. Just the same as us. That morning at my brother’s place, I drew my skirts to fit the bucket between my knees and pressed my forehead against the animal’s flank. I could feel her breathing, knew she was nervous by the way her ribs shuddered. Those cows smelled good and warm, the smell of hay and something sharp enough it makes your eyes water. Some might call it a stink, but that smell has always been home to me. – from The Quickening, page 90 –
Thematically The Quickening explores the ideas of isolation, loneliness, and the importance of women’s friendships in the face of tragedy. I grew to respect the two women in Hoover’s novel – they are not always likable, they often stumble and make mistakes…but for that they become real.
This novel is not a feel good novel. It is almost unbearably sad. And yet, the honesty of the work shines through and provides the light in an otherwise bleak story. Hoover is a talented writer – one who understands her characters motivations, needs and flaws, and can portray them with a compassion which draws the reader into their stories.
Readers who wish to understand the challenges facing women who chose the hardscrabble life of farming in the midwest during an economically difficult time, will be drawn to The Quickening. Michelle Hoover is a writer to watch.