Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma!


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The Last book for this series is “During the Reign of the Queen of Persia” by Joan Chase

Joan Chase’s first novel is one of sisters, mothers, and daughters and—not least—their men, who can never compete with the fierce bonds that link the Ohio farm women of the Krauss family. Chase’s ability to give us memorable characters who revolve around their reigning “Queen of Persia,” old Gram, is partly the result of her unique point of view: the “we” of four young cousins who speak as one. In the midst of family feuds, divided loyalties, awakening (and souring) sexuality, and deadly illness, Chase does not allow emotions to sag into sentimentality or tragedy. A tart and rowdy humor presides over a book about survival through love.

Chase’s prose stretches from lyrical descriptions of nature o finely tuned dialogue for each character. The narrative goes back in time to Gram’s youth and unfortunate marriage; Dan’s courting of her daughter, Libby; then to Libby’s battle with her two girls, especially Celia, eldest and most beautiful of the granddaughters. Early in the novel we see Celia’s budding sexuality, breathlessly watched and envied by the three other girls. Mysteriously, her beauty fades with an early marriage; she leaves the farm only to return, wreathed in tragedy. The structure of the book is circular, beginning and ending with Celia.

The terminal illness of Grace, the favored daughter, unites the women, bringing Aunt Elinor, a New York advertising executive, back to Ohio to nurse Grace and convert her to Christian Science. Still, Grace dies, leaving her two daughters to Gram’s care, and her embittered husband outside the family circle. One of Chase’s messages is that constant renewal, the life force, is stronger than death or grief.

When Gram finally sells her farm to developers, she has no regrets, through her kin will feel the loss of their heritage. Her pragmatism may be a lesson to her daughters, but we also observe her nightly escapes to bingo and movies rather than to face a loveless marriage. The reader sees that survival has a price and may wonder whether or not Gram’s powerful personality stultifies or inspires the family members who continue to orbit around her.

Dr. Sara Jane Richter will be presenting. Pick up a copy at the front desk

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