Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book Review: Indian Summer of the Heart

Title: Indian Summer of the Heart

Author: Daisy Newman

Date: 1982

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

ISBN: 978-0395325179

Length: 376 pages

Quote: “In the summer of his seventy-ninth year Oliver Otis of Firbank Farm fell in love.”

“And? So...?” some might ask. “What makes that a novel? Sounds like a romance.”

And if you're reading for the plot alone I might as well admit that it is a romance, pretty much, although a romance between people in their seventies is guaranteed at least to be different from the first-kiss-on-page-35 paperbacks certain “romance” purveyors crank out by the half-dozen. But one doesn't read Daisy Newman's novels for the plot alone. Indian Summer of the Heart is the sequel to I Take Thee Serenity; together they're the story of the nicest family in New England. Newman wanted to offer readers a healthy dose of niceness while making some points about the social issues of the late twentieth century, and sharing the history and beliefs of her religious community—the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

Oliver is a gentleman farmer who enjoys working out in the fresh air. His wife, Daphne, found time to be a painter, and eventually became somewhat rich and famous at it...

It already seems silly now, but in the twentieth century many people seriously believed that the old French Socialist fantasy, in which women were supposed to preserve some sort of spirituality in the home by not having jobs or money of their own, might have a place in the real world. I don't remember any husbands who felt that they'd been “unmanned” if their wives were earning better wages than they were, even in the 1970s. I remember Real Men (like my father) who felt that money was money and if men didn't know how to cook and clean they should've joined the Army, and I remember Common Bums (like one with whom I blush to admit I ate lunch once) who openly wanted to latch onto a rich woman and spend her money. Funnily enough I don't remember ever having heard a friend reminisce about the kind of “No wife of mine has to go out to work” scene the commercial media were kicking around in the 1970s, either. The sociological study of what was actually going on, that passes a reality check and is also a salty good read, is The Hearts of Men.

But...did Oliver ever mind that his wife had become rich and famous, and he was a farmer? Whatever for, he says when asked, they weren't in competition with each other. Oliver obviously never needed a full-time day care provider to follow him around the house, cleaning up his mess.

By the time Daphne died Oliver wasn't bothered much by hormone surges any more, and was prepared to spend his celibate old age with his young relatives, the charming idealist couple readers had met in I Take Thee Serenity (Serenity, or Rennie, being the bride) and their children. Then he meets Loveday Mead, a retired college dean whose family were Quakers but who's not had the full benefit of a Quaker spiritual life.

Dean Mead is an active feminist, researching a book about how sexism stifled a talented woman, smothering her into domesticity. Feminist readers can probably guess where this is leading from the fact that Loveday's heroine of choice is Anna Maria Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus's older sister. Luckily for the Mozart family, “Nannerl” seems to have accepted the fact that her brother was a genius and she had just enough talent to entertain her rich husband and his friends.

Can Newman convince you that Loveday Mead is not being stifled in any harmful, sexist, patronizing way, but genuinely comforted, when she decides to marry Oliver before she's finished her feminist screed about poor stifled Nannerl? Newman's job is easier if you've read the existing biographies of the Mozarts...I'm guessing that she'll convince you. Along the way, she'll share a lot of firsthand observations about late-in-life romance, about Quakers, about Europe, about New England, and about grandparenting.

Indian Summer of the Heart is a feel-good book that may come to us straight from the Lost Planet of Nice, but if you're looking for a story that offers more insight and information than suspense, this is a particularly nice one. It's not outrageously overpriced on Amazon (yet) so the usual price, $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, applies to this title too if you choose to buy it here; four books of this size will probably fit into one $5 package, and the others could be Fair Trade Books.