“Until he was almost ten, the name stuck to him.”

“Stuck to him”—I like that.  Not stuck “with” him.  There’s a little hope glinting off of this, the first sentence of the 1925 winner, Edna Ferber’s So Big.  The name in question is, in fact, the title–the young man had been nicknamed “So Big” and later “Sobig” by his mother…poor fellow.  That little detail strikes me as a bit precious, but the opening of this novel still makes me sure that I’m headed somewhere better than I’ve been.

Why?  It’s the little things.  The book, after introducing “So Big” (whose “real” name is Dirk DeJong), turns to the childhood of his mother, and in describing the authors she grew up reading (a generally interesting and wide-ranging list—at least, I’d say Lord Byron and Charles Dickens are two different worlds), Ferber provides the following  description of a favorite book: “that good fairy of the scullery, the Fireside Companion, in whose pages factory girls and dukes were brought together as inevitably as steak and onions.”  It’s not a sentence that makes the heart weep for joy, but there’s something delightfully cozy about the image, and the pairing of storybook romance with “steak and onions” was unexpected and fun.

Dirk’s mother, Selina Peake, is an interesting little girl, and Ferber’s taking some time to set things up with her.  I’m looking forward to this book because it seems to be set in a real urban environment that’s not New York—a first for me, in this run of Pulitzers.  Chicago at the turn of the century is a fascinating place, and it seems like Ferber will take on the story with a nice tone and a wry sense of humor.  For example, in describing Selina’s education in an all-girl’s school in Chicago, she makes the following statement:

Of men, other than her father, she knew as little as a nun—less.  For these cloistered creatures must, if only in the conning of their Bible, learn much of the moods and passions than sway the male.  The Songs of Solomon alone are a glorious sex education.  But the Bible was not included in Selina’s haphazard reading, and the Gideonite was not then a force in the hotel world.

For me, that little paragraph showed a bit of the author’s personality.  I don’t think she’s going to stay out of the way in this book (unlike, say, Edith Wharton), but I think it will be an interesting style of narration, rather than irritating.  I’m cautiously optimistic…I guess we’ll see how it goes.  More on So Big in a day or two!

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