cover image The Girls

The Girls

Edna Ferber. Belt, $20 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-953368-55-3

Ferber (Giant) follows the lives of three Chicago women in the first two decades of the 20th century in this sprawling 1921 novel, revived as part of a series of fiction about middle America. Charlotte Thrift, who was 18 when the Civil War broke out, is now 74 and the older daughter of pioneers from New York State. Her niece, Lottie, 32, lives at home but is restless, spending her days taking care of Charlotte along with Lottie’s mother, Carrie. Lottie would much prefer to work in the social welfare system like her friend, a juvenile court judge. In contrast, Lottie’s 18-year-old niece, Charley, is a free-spirited flapper, though her search for love is thwarted after her suitor dies in WWI. Lottie finds purpose in helping a maid’s sister get out of legal trouble and by volunteering with the Red Cross in France during WWI, which affords her a chance to get away from the domineering Carrie. Charley also leaves Chicago to join a dance troupe. There is much humor, particularly in comic descriptions of boorish suitors and hapless or disgraced husbands, and Ferber’s awareness of family dynamics and the midwestern metropolis comes alive on the page. It stands as an enduring portrait of women torn between duty and self-fulfillment. (Mar.)