11 February 2004

The Older Brother You Always Wished You Had

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had some problem with "classics" as a child because I preferred reading animal stories.

This didn't go for all classics. I adored Rebecca Randall, she of Sunnybrook Farm, and Rose Campbell, the sole girl among the Eight Cousins, for instance, and the Miss Pickerel and Danny Dunn books they had at school. But the moment the love story in a classic reared its ugly head--like Meg and John Brooke--I was outta there.

Which explains why I never got through Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles as a kid, even though my mom had bought me the Whitman copy. I thought Freckles himself was brave, having survived what was described as a brutal childhood and the loss of a hand, and the Limberlost sounded like a delightfully mysterious place. But oh, my, then came the mooning over the Swamp Angel and I was gone.

I finally got through Freckles after reading A Girl of the Limberlost, in which an older Freckles and Swamp Angel appear, as an adult. Elnora's story was more compelling that Freckles', I thought, especially the revelation and reformation of embittered Kate Comstock (I was particularly fascinated in the chapter where Kate "peels" her skin so she will look more like a respectable city woman), even if I skimmed a lot of the fulsome love story chapters.

Recently I finished my latest foray into Porter, Laddie: A True Blue Story, as an e-Book, which I loved. So far it is my favorite of her books.

Laddie is the eldest of the twelve Stanton children still left at home on the big sprawling farmstead in the Indiana hills. His story, that of his love for "the Princess" a.k.a. Miss Pamela Pryor and of his final decision to be a farmer despite his education, is told by the youngest member of the household, "Little Sister" as everyone calls her, who seems to be about eight. (She says she has an old-fashioned--and, presumably as religious as the family is, probably Biblical--name, but she is always called "Little Sister," Laddie's nickname for her.) Little Sister, in her delightful, exuberant voice, also addresses the problem of the cold spinster schoolteacher who boards with the Stantons, the mystery of "the Princess'" unfriendly father, her sister Sally's wedding, her musical sister Shelley's romantic problems, and the adventures of her other brother, mischievous Leon, who for one-heart stopping chapter looks like he might end up the family disgrace--not to mention the leitmotif of most Porter novels, the love of birds and nature.

Although it's as decidedly as old-fashioned as Little Sister's real name given its era, this is also a very funny and very sentimental book, with some moments of high adventure and drama, not to mention lovely descriptions of the beautiful countryside. Some of these older books appall me or bore me; Laddie is neither appalling nor boring. He's the older brother everyone wishes they had. Recommended.