Reading Across the USA: West Virginia

 

 

 

We’re heading back to West Virginia today! Last week I reviewed a great memoir–Dimestore by Lee Smith (read it here)–that reflects more traditional life in state born in the Civil War. Today we’re looking at a sliver of life in the top echelon of the state in the 1950s–Keith Millard’s extraordinary novel, Gloria.

I devoured this book when it came out for a simple reason–it was so much my Mom’s story. Like my mom (Purdue ’57), Gloria Cotter, was sent off to college to be “finished” and expected to marry an up-and-coming career man. In the parlance of the day she was to earn her “Mrs. Degree” cum laude. The novel features Gloria’s final summer at home she endures the country club world of the small West Virginia steel town dominated by her parents’ “set.” She’d like graduate school, but there’s a suitable prospect at hand for marriage. Which will it be?

This is the generation who went crazy at home in the suburbs and raised the banner of Women’s Liberation. After reading this novel of that time and its claustrophobic atmosphere (funny just how many reviews use that word!) it’s easy to see why. Maillard perfectly captures the lack of oxygen in a young women’s life in that set and in that era. As I read, I could feel my stockings start to bag, my girdle pinch and I began to wonder if I’d ever get the Club waitress’s attention to have her discreetly bring me a second Tom Collins so I could endure what Mr. Bank Vice President was droning on about while the son of my Dad’s golf buddy tried to instigate a round of footsy with me under the table.

This is one women’s novel not to be missed. Book Clubs will devour it even now. I have recommended it far and wide over the years. While it is, sadly, out-of-print, it is still readily available used (buy the paperback–the hardback is getting ridiculous prices) and in many libraries.  I wish it would come out on Kindle. Perfect Book Club book.

Gloria by Keith Maillard

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