Title: The Green Bay Tree
Author: Louis Bromfield
Date Finished: 15 July 2009
My Rating: 2
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Library
The publication of Louis Bromfield's first book in 1924 turned him into a literary celebrity. The book, The Green Bay Tree, was an instant critical and popular success. Bromfield made enough money off that first book to move his family to Paris where he wrote full time and ran in the same circles as other famous Lost Generation writers.
The Green Bay Tree focuses on the lives of 3 women in the Shane family. Widowed matriarch Julia Shane becomes more and more of a recluse the older she gets, never leaving her stately home surrounded by the mills of a booming city.
Her daughter Lily does not want to live the conventional life that society dictates she should and since she has money and independent means sees no reason why she should. She leaves home and establishes a life for herself in Paris.
Younger daughter Irene is devoted to religion and wants nothing more than to become a nun and live a life of seclusion. When her mother forbids her to become a nun she instead devotes her life to helping the poor foreign mill workers in her town.
After visiting Bromfield's home at Malabar Farm in Richland County Ohio and learning all about this once popular author turned farmer who was friends and contemporaries with the likes of Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I was more than willing to read some of his books.
Unfortunately, as I told my husband while reading this book, I can see why Bromfield has fallen into obscurity. The Green Bay Tree bored me into a near reading coma.
Bromfield's writing style did not engage me at all and I never managed to care one bit for any of the characters.
I did enjoy this paragraph, which I think sums up fairly well the theme Bromfield was going for.
"Life is hard for our children. It isn't as simple as it was for us. Their grandfathers were pioneers and the same blood runs in their veins, only they haven't a frontier any longer. They stand...these children our ours...with their backs toward this rough-hewn middle west and their faces toward Europe and the East and they belong to neither. They are lost somewhere between."
I think at its heart The Green Bay Tree was a story about the growth of industrialism and it's effects on agriculture and people but it was tied up in the strange narrative of the Shane women. The Shanes home had once been surrounded by meadows and field that had been conquered by John Shane and other pioneers. Now the home was surrounded by a different sort of progress, mills and factories. Old Mrs. Shane is the last hold out, refusing to sell her home to developers.
This book just turned out to be much more of a chore than I thought it would be to read.
There are 3 other books that are interrelated with the Green Bay Tree and for one of them, Early Autumn, Bromfield was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. I guess I am a bit of a glutton for punishment because I will probably at least read Early Autumn one of these days.
On a somewhat ironic note, I am reading the journal of a young Jewish girl living in Paris and attending the Sorbonne during WWII. In the first few pages of her journal she mentions she is reading and very captivated by one of Bromfield's books. He was popular in his day, that is for sure.