By Gene Stratton-Porter
The beeches and oaks so love to talk, they cling to their dead, dry leaves. In the winter the winds are stiffest and blow most, so these trees whisper, chatter, sob, laugh, and at times roar until the sound is deafening. They never cease until new leaves come out in the spring to push off the old ones. I love to stand beneath them with my ear to the great trunks, interpreting what they say to fit my moods. The beeches branch low, and their leaves are small, so they only know common earthly things; but the oaks run straight above almost all other trees before they branch, their arms are mighty, their leaves large. They meet the winds that travel around the globe, and from them learn the big things.
There is no kind way to put this. A Girl of the Limberlost is very boring. It was impossible to lose myself in the story, and I was painfully aware of each second that ticked off the clock as I plowed my way through this midwestern classic. To make matters worse, I loved this book as a young girl and was looking forward to rereading a book from my childhood. Some stories do not stand the test of time. Duly noted.
Limberlost tells the story of Elnora Comstock, a young farm girl living in Indiana at the turn of the 20th century. She must graciously overcomes obstacles like an absent mother and very little money as she attempts to complete her schooling and fit in with the other girls who live in town. She finds solace from her social woes in the cool shadows of the Limberlost Swamp where she collects moths and other rare specimens to pay her way through school.
The beginning chapters of the book read almost like vignettes, easily standing alone and making the story a bit choppy. Very little momentum pulls the reader from chapter to chapter, making it easy to set the book down and feel no draw to pick it back up for weeks on end. A plot begins to form about half-way through the book, and some excitement finally takes place in the last few chapters–but not enough to make amends for the dry and dreary beginning of the novel. It’s like Jane Austen minus all the interesting parts. This is unfortunate because Stratton-Porter does write a few passages that so beautifully capture our ancestral Indiana with flowing words and vivid pictures, but so little of the book is spent developing this type of imagery. Stratton-Porter is a talented writer who captures her knowledge and appreciation of nature with stunning words, but she isn’t a storyteller and most of her talent is wasted on flat characters who do nothing interesting.
With her incredible work ethic and humble spirit, Elnora is the ideal woman, and A Girl of the Limberlost sometimes feels reminiscent of titles like Little Women with its simplistic, instruction manual approach to morality and happiness. Its message that if you work hard and bear all things, eventually everything will work out perfectly can be hard to stomach. Though, thank goodness, Stratton-Porter’s prose isn’t nearly as sanctimonious as Louisa May Alcott is in Little Women, which makes it such an incredibly benign book. I couldn’t bring myself to hate it. There was nothing offensive. I never rolled my eyes. I simply exhaled a huge sigh of relief when it was finally over. I certainly would never advise against reading this book, unless, of course, you are the type of person who could actually die of boredom. In that case, stay away, my friend. Stay far, far away.