I’m a sucker for a long book. I like knowing I will live with the characters for more than a few hours or a few days. But such books aren’t written very often anymore. Or if they are, their subject isn’t one that grabs my attention. So when my friend handed me an old, fat paperback and told me I’d love it, I didn’t hesitate to plunge in.
And love it I did! . . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer was published 25 years ago. The funny thing is that I remember seeing it on the shelves of the bookstore I worked in while I was in college, and while the cover enticed me, for some reason, I never took it home.
This epic novel centers around two girlhood friends—Anne and Sally. It begins at their graduation from the Female Seminary in an Ohio town in 1868, when they are invited to become charter members of the Waynesboro Woman’s Club, a small group of women dedicated to continuing their intellectual pursuits while living within the bounds of their womanhood.
The book ends 1,433 pages later in 1932.
These characters really lived for me. By the end, I felt like they were my friends. I love authors that can make that happen! Another thing that struck me was the incredible historical detail in the book. I found myself wondering how in the world the author had done all that research! Then I looked her up on the Internet, only to discover that Helen Hooven Santmyer was herself born in 1895! She was into her late eighties when this book finally saw publication. So these were the stories of her mother’s generation—and of her own. She lived many of these things instead of just reading about them. And it shows.
I loved every aspect of this book—the political, social and religious climates of that day and region, the subtle changes that happen through this 65-year period, the relationships that grow and change, the ebb and flow of joys and sorrows that characterize every life.
If you love epic stories, if you love history, if you love stories of relationship, you will love this book. But beware! When you pick it up, you are in for a long haul. But if you are like me, that only heightens the appeal.