Life after Work

The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson, Pulitzer Winner of 1924

The Able Mclaughlins is a story about several families of devoutly religious Scottish immigrants on the lonely Iowa prairie just after the civil war. Young Wully McLaughlin returns from the war ready to marry his sweetheart Chirstie McNair when he finds out that she has been “shamed” by Wully’s cousin Peter. In other words, she has been raped and is pregnant. He threatens the cousin to leave and never return or else and then hurriedly marries Chirstie to save her reputation. When her pregnancy shows too soon after the wedding it becomes clear what is going on and Wully’s mother in particular is unhappy because she assumes that her son is to blame for Chirstie’s condition. She does stick with Wully though and everything is fine when the baby boy is born, who turns out to be a particularly bonny child. As the boy is about a year old though, Peter returns. He shows up at Wully and Chirstie’s house while Chirstie is alone and frightens her so that she almost has a nervous breadown. Wully is beside himself and goes off to confront him but Peter has disappeared again, apparently on the way to his parent’s house. The community sets out to search for Peter which makes for some awkward situations because other than Wully’s parents (Chirstie eventually broke down and told her mother-in-law the real reason for her pregnancy) nobody knows what Peter has done while Wully is entertaining furious thoughts of revenge. After several days of searching Peter is given up on and life goes back to normal. Some time later, Wully and Chirstie unexpectedly find him, but he is sick and dying. At first Wully is so incensed that he wants to abandon him to die alone, but eventually he reconciles himself to the extent that he is able to bring the sick man home to die.

I enjoyed this book, I got through it in just a few days because I wanted to know how it would end. It does have a nostalgic and one-dimensional feel to it though, like an old movie from the 40s or 50s.

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