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The Able McLaughlins: A Library of America eBook Classic

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The riveting Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, available as an e-book for the first time. Wully McLaughlin returns to his family’s Iowa homestead at the end of the Civil War to find his sweetheart, Chirstie McNair, alone and in distress, her mother dead and her wayward father gone. Perplexed by a new aloofness in Chirstie, Wully soon discovers that she has been raped and is pre The riveting Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, available as an e-book for the first time. Wully McLaughlin returns to his family’s Iowa homestead at the end of the Civil War to find his sweetheart, Chirstie McNair, alone and in distress, her mother dead and her wayward father gone. Perplexed by a new aloofness in Chirstie, Wully soon discovers that she has been raped and is pregnant. To the shock of his parents and the tight-knit Scottish community in which they live, he marries Chirstie and claims the child, and the shame of its early birth, as his own. But the lingering presence of Chirstie’s attacker sets in motion a series of events that pit the desire for revenge against a reluctance to perpetuate the cycle of violence.   Often compared to Willa Cather’s One of Ours and Edna Ferber’s So Big for its earthy realism, its portrait of an immigrant community, and its depiction of Midwestern farm life, Margaret Wilson’s provocative debut novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for 1924, is ripe for rediscovery. In a recent reappraisal Judy Cornes commends the novel’s “feeling for time and place: a sense of the unrelenting forces that both history and nature impose on the individual. . . . The Able McLaughlins remains an engrossing story with characters who constantly engage our attention.”


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The riveting Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, available as an e-book for the first time. Wully McLaughlin returns to his family’s Iowa homestead at the end of the Civil War to find his sweetheart, Chirstie McNair, alone and in distress, her mother dead and her wayward father gone. Perplexed by a new aloofness in Chirstie, Wully soon discovers that she has been raped and is pre The riveting Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, available as an e-book for the first time. Wully McLaughlin returns to his family’s Iowa homestead at the end of the Civil War to find his sweetheart, Chirstie McNair, alone and in distress, her mother dead and her wayward father gone. Perplexed by a new aloofness in Chirstie, Wully soon discovers that she has been raped and is pregnant. To the shock of his parents and the tight-knit Scottish community in which they live, he marries Chirstie and claims the child, and the shame of its early birth, as his own. But the lingering presence of Chirstie’s attacker sets in motion a series of events that pit the desire for revenge against a reluctance to perpetuate the cycle of violence.   Often compared to Willa Cather’s One of Ours and Edna Ferber’s So Big for its earthy realism, its portrait of an immigrant community, and its depiction of Midwestern farm life, Margaret Wilson’s provocative debut novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for 1924, is ripe for rediscovery. In a recent reappraisal Judy Cornes commends the novel’s “feeling for time and place: a sense of the unrelenting forces that both history and nature impose on the individual. . . . The Able McLaughlins remains an engrossing story with characters who constantly engage our attention.”

30 review for The Able McLaughlins: A Library of America eBook Classic

  1. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    I'm reading every Pulitzer Prize winning novel, in order, and reached 1924's The Able McLaughlins. With a deep breath, and gritted teeth, I started a book I'd never heard of, that I was sure I wouldn't like. I thought the title was stupid and the plot didn't interest me. But, as it turned out, I judged The Able McLaughlins too fast. The novel takes place in a midwestern Scottish farming community during the 1860s. The McLaughlin family's oldest son Wully has just returned from the Civil War ready I'm reading every Pulitzer Prize winning novel, in order, and reached 1924's The Able McLaughlins. With a deep breath, and gritted teeth, I started a book I'd never heard of, that I was sure I wouldn't like. I thought the title was stupid and the plot didn't interest me. But, as it turned out, I judged The Able McLaughlins too fast. The novel takes place in a midwestern Scottish farming community during the 1860s. The McLaughlin family's oldest son Wully has just returned from the Civil War ready to marry his sweetheart Chirstie McNair. But for some reason, she won't talk to him, and, worse yet, she won't tell him why. Wully is hurt and confused until he finds out the cause of her rejection and the terrible secret she’s been harboring. The rest of the novel is about the effect Chirstie's secret has not only on her and Wully, but on the entire community. This is a simple, highly accessible novel. Some have called it melodramatic, and I get that, but for me, the word "sentimental" does a better job of describing it. Wilson's depiction of life on the prairie owes a lot to Willa Cather, and while the characters aren't nearly as complex and interesting as those seen in Cather's work, Wilson clearly loves them, and does a great job celebrating the simple life they lead. Ultimately, this is a book in praise of everything good that humanity has to offer. The last 30 pages had me riveted and I wasn't sure how Wilson was going to end it, but she clearly comes down on the side of generosity and grace in a way that feels truly life affirming. There are no complicated metaphors here, no symbolism, no subtlety. Yet this small, sweet story still has a lot to offer.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne Russell

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924, but is about a Scottish community in the Midwest in the 1870's. Though Wilson's flowery prose made me lose interest at times, I loved how she lingered sentimentally over all of her characters. And how she interspersed glimpses of the future into the story. She handles a horrific and tragic prairie rape with unflinching attention to the emotions of all who are touched by it. And presents a complete portrait of this community and its culture. I really love This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924, but is about a Scottish community in the Midwest in the 1870's. Though Wilson's flowery prose made me lose interest at times, I loved how she lingered sentimentally over all of her characters. And how she interspersed glimpses of the future into the story. She handles a horrific and tragic prairie rape with unflinching attention to the emotions of all who are touched by it. And presents a complete portrait of this community and its culture. I really loved this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mimi Stamper

    I loved this book. The writing was a bit archaic and full of Scottish dialect, but once you got past that, it was beautiful. The story follows a group of families from Scotland who settled the American prairies in the 1860s. The heartache of ten kids in a one-room cabin and endless days of back-breaking labor are offset by the beauty of the prairies and the love the families share and the joy of freedom and possibility. Hard as it was, the freedom of this country and the ability to own land made I loved this book. The writing was a bit archaic and full of Scottish dialect, but once you got past that, it was beautiful. The story follows a group of families from Scotland who settled the American prairies in the 1860s. The heartache of ten kids in a one-room cabin and endless days of back-breaking labor are offset by the beauty of the prairies and the love the families share and the joy of freedom and possibility. Hard as it was, the freedom of this country and the ability to own land made this the promised land. There is a love story at the heart of the book, but my favorite passage involved a prairie woman who passed on cuttings from her peonies. They had been carried by her on the wagons from back East, and by her mother before her, and by her grandmother before. Lonely women carrying a bit of color close to their hearts into this foreign land; she held it high as they crossed an unbridged river so it wouldn't get wet. They had to leave their trunks and all household goods behind, but she held onto her peony. What a beautiful story of strong women.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    While I would say that this Pulitzer winner is mediocre writing, I can also say that I liked the story. It's one of those rather idyllic prairie/frontier immigrant farming stories that seemed to have captivated so many writers of the 1920s and 30s, albeit a story centered around a really tragic event. Reminded me of Willa Cather's "My Antonia" and Edna Ferber's "So Big," among others. What I'm really appreciating about my project of reading all the Pulitzer fiction winners is that I'm getting an While I would say that this Pulitzer winner is mediocre writing, I can also say that I liked the story. It's one of those rather idyllic prairie/frontier immigrant farming stories that seemed to have captivated so many writers of the 1920s and 30s, albeit a story centered around a really tragic event. Reminded me of Willa Cather's "My Antonia" and Edna Ferber's "So Big," among others. What I'm really appreciating about my project of reading all the Pulitzer fiction winners is that I'm getting an interesting view of what stories resonated in the American consciousness at certain times in the history of fiction writing over the past 100 years. There are definite patterns and trends. And I'm also able to observe lots of snapshots of life that show how things were so vastly different in the various regions of the country when communication between them was nearly non-existent. Life was so parochial and provincial. And this novel paints a portrait of life in 1860s Iowa for Scottish immigrants that is just so removed from life in 1860s Georgia (Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind") or 1860s Alabama (Stribling's "The Store") or 1870s high society New York City (Wharton's "Age of Innocence"). Anyway, this novel is a part of that body of literature that contributes to these parochial snapshots of mid-19th century life in the US. That's what makes it valuable to me, though the writing isn't great.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    This book has great characters and great descriptions of the setting of the novel. I love the opening sentence of the book. The book is set in Iowa during pioneer days and gives a good view of what life was like at that time. A refreshing read as it is devoid of edgy elements that writers seem to think must be included in today's novels.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Realini

    The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson 10 out of 10 This exulting, admirable, august winner of the Pulitzer Prize for literature early in the last century, in 1924 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulitze... - is the paradigm, the archetype of the novel that this reader loves, classic, telling an ecstatic story, with role models and a few villains – the absolute one in the book seems to get away, if not with murder, at least with a horrible abuse and crime, but the tone of the benevolent tale is m The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson 10 out of 10 This exulting, admirable, august winner of the Pulitzer Prize for literature early in the last century, in 1924 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulitze... - is the paradigm, the archetype of the novel that this reader loves, classic, telling an ecstatic story, with role models and a few villains – the absolute one in the book seems to get away, if not with murder, at least with a horrible abuse and crime, but the tone of the benevolent tale is mostly one of reverence to God (with some small deviations for one or the other of the figures present within) and the attitude of the personages is one of respect for the rules set by the almighty (for those who unlike the undersigned believe in that fantasy) and thus one of the Absolute Lessons of the magnum opus is that we have to show clemency, embrace the other one, even after he has caused great injury and pain and forget the famous (or infamous) quote – well, at least the last, Old Testament at its worst part – with “will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison…” Perhaps the main character of the chef d’oeuvre is Wully McLaughlin, one of the eldest sons of the noble family, the surviving brother that had fought in the civil War along with Allen, a more boastful, wilder, outgoing young man who dies in that terrible conflict, from which the hero returns once, only to have to come back and face the ordeal again, but the for the last time he is rather radiant, ecstatic as he luxuriates in his new found admiration and love for his neighbor, Christie McNair – somewhat related, as perhaps a second degree cousin –the one he had known before going to fight as a child and who, upon his return, would have become a seraphic, sublime figure that shares his infatuation, as they kiss when they both travel quite a long way – for she has a rather outré father, that would only be tamed and brought to see some sense by a wife from Glasgow - to get some water and enjoy each other’s wondrous aura… Nonetheless, when he returns from the Civil War and he takes a horse in pouring rain, Wully is astonished and terrified to see the one he adores reject him and with a tremendous vehemence, which the young man does not understand, until he sees her in church, after many burdensome, troubling interactions, looking at him in hunger and perceiving that the woman must have some horrendous ailment tormenting her – he thinks she may be mad for some time – and when he watches her crying relentlessly and sobbing in pain, he tries to ask her younger brother about the reasons for her suffering, apart from the fact that their mother had died a short while ago and the girl has had to protect her siblings, endure the adversity of staying in the isolated home, because the dying parent forbade them from looking for any help, seeing that in the vicious cold wind and snow storm they would have died frozen… When the brave, generous, loving, determined, kind, resilient, adoring main character understands what happened, that his villainous, abhorrent cousin, Peter Keith had abused the love of his life, when she had been taken in by her aunt, together with her brother and younger sister, Jeannie, after their mother had died, he decides to take action and he explains his plans to Christie, assuring her of his adoration and eternal protection, that he would make the villain disappear and then he leaves no option other than permanent exile to the rapist, who had anyway continuously expressed his desire to go West in the past and now he will have to and after he leaves a note for his parents he would travel away, though he may still be responsible for some future, further annoyances and torture for those involved in the narrative… One serious problem that Wully has to face, aside from the confrontation with the monster of the tale, which might have resulted in the strong, courageous, gritty man destroying the lazy, cowardly creature that had abused a defenseless woman (she had shot him in the foot, but could not escape the rape), is that of explaining to his mother, after they marry in a rush – indeed, he would start matrimony on the same day that he announces his intentions, but the parent has him delay a little, for clothes and some minimal arrangements for some kind of feast, during which the bride is shy, embarrassed and even when she has to say yes in front of the priest, she lacks the stamina, energy and will to live, after the torture and attack she had suffered from to say yes – about the term of the birth of the future child, which comes in December and thus exposes an intercourse (though the God fearing people of almost two centuries ago would not think in those terms and use in any circumstance such words) that would have taken place before the sacred union is confirmed in front of a priest. This is such a scandal that it would keep the mother unhappy and the relationship between Wully and his wife tense for a long time, while making readers admire the virtue, the morals, the stature, honesty, respect of those characters (as opposed to the present where the likes of Putin, Xi and Trump rule so much of the world) and at the same time wonder and condemn this exaggerated prudishness, the rejection and opprobrium reserved for a situation wherein no harm is really done – he marries her eventually – and they would have excluded the couple from a very religious (fanatical?) community, making one wonder why they did not find some other explanation, for even in the present, babies are born prematurely, why not just after the Civil War, but at one point the truth may come out, if only for the paramount personages, while the others will forever remain in the dark as to what really happened. It is arguable if the second most important character is Wully’s mother or Christie, but nevertheless, these two women represent role models in their own right and Christie eventually loves her mother-in-law so much that she dislikes those who make jokes on mothers-in-law and finally, she may even share a secret with this older woman, in spite of the interdiction pronounced by her spouse, who has had difficulty in hiding from his parents the real paternity of his would be son, named John at the request of his father… The Able McLaughlins is a classic drama, which has quite a few elements of humor, such as the one introduced at the arrival of Barba McNair, the second wife of the miserly Alex, a man with a reputation for spending next to nothing, the one who caused his first wife to day alone, for he had gone all the way to Scotland for some inheritance and he had never worked to make anything more than a ‘sty’ as his new spouse would call his house, pressing him all the time to build a new home, even abandoning him when it seems he would never listen…

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...

    Like most readers reviewing this book, I am working my way through all of the Pulitzer Prize winning books. Some of the winners are completely unknown to me, and this is one of those. I had never heard of the book or author. And, honestly, I went into this one prepared to be bored and disappointed. I didn't expect to like it at all. However I was wrong. I liked it a lot. I found the characters realistic, flawed, likable and interesting. And I kept thinking about my own Scottish immigrant great-g Like most readers reviewing this book, I am working my way through all of the Pulitzer Prize winning books. Some of the winners are completely unknown to me, and this is one of those. I had never heard of the book or author. And, honestly, I went into this one prepared to be bored and disappointed. I didn't expect to like it at all. However I was wrong. I liked it a lot. I found the characters realistic, flawed, likable and interesting. And I kept thinking about my own Scottish immigrant great-grandfather who also settled into farming in Iowa. It felt like I was reading his personal history. I found the writing here to be simple, subtle nuanced, quiet and completely appropriate to the story and setting. The Able McLaughlins takes place during the 1860s in a Scottish faming community. The family's oldest son, Wully, has receently come home after fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War. He is excited to get home and marry his sweetheart Christie McNair. Unfortunately when he arrives at her farm she refuses to speak to him. He is hurt, but determined to find out why she is rejecting him. He eventually convinces her to confide in him and they marry. But her secret is one that impacts the entire community and the determines the course of their lives. The rest of the novel is about the effects of that secret. I loved the quiet scenes describing life on the farm. The simple job of sewing clothing. The hard work tilling the soil. The desire to beautify the land and home. Each little moment painted a picture that allowed me to believe I was there, sitting by the fire, with all of the McLaughlins. I found the book charming and warm; hopeful and redemptive.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I'm reading my way through the Pulitzers - and my guess is most people who have read this book are undertaking the same project as me. I have a few bones to pick with Margaret Wilson. First, I do not understand her decision to sneak in references to future events at completely random moments. For example: "What he saw there made so great an impression on him, that fifty-seven years later, when that stranger’s grandson was one of the disheartened veterans of the World War who came to his office I'm reading my way through the Pulitzers - and my guess is most people who have read this book are undertaking the same project as me. I have a few bones to pick with Margaret Wilson. First, I do not understand her decision to sneak in references to future events at completely random moments. For example: "What he saw there made so great an impression on him, that fifty-seven years later, when that stranger’s grandson was one of the disheartened veterans of the World War who came to his office looking for work…" There were so many of these future references peppered in at the most inane times, it seemed like Wilson was substituting glimpses into the future for adjectives. I read that there was actually a sequel written to this book called The Law and the McLaughlins, but from what I can tell on Wikipedia, it doesn’t actually address any of the little insights into the future that Wilson peppered into this story. Second, this story was summarized as a “love story between Chirstie and Wully” but there was no palpable chemistry between the two. Chirstie didn’t have much of a personality beyond vulnerable and scared, and neither of these characters had much depth. The wooing of Chirstie seemed more like Wully forcing himself onto her because he fantasized about her the entire time he was in the Army. The fact that Chirstie ultimately accepts has more to do with her own personal circumstances and not at all due to reciprocating Wully’s feelings. My favorite character was Barbara McNair, whose relationship with Chirstie’s father served as a nice foil to the troubles of Wully & Chirstie. Barbara comes to Iowa thinking that Chirstie’s father is a large, wealthy property owner (which he is, but only because he’s able to buy land by saving money on everything else). She is a kindhearted, generous, and independently wealthy woman, which is my favorite kind of woman! However, although the main characters were a little lacking, I thought Wilson did a really good job of creating a Scottish community in the 1860s (although I’m not an expert.) From the farming process, to how close and gossipy the locals are, to the social dynamics at church and in town, I was enamored with the atmosphere, if not the plot. In this way, this book reminded me of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, which I recommended reading for the wit, and not the characters or plot. However, if you’re not trying to read all of the Pulitzer winners, I would say you could skip this book altogether.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    Although I enjoyed this short novel, it did not seem like the type of book that would be awarded a Pulitzer. It certainly illustrates how our taste in literary fiction has changed over the past century. This is the story of a young soldier who returns to his Iowa farming family and the girl he loves. I appreciated how far ahead of its time it seemed to be in describing a family responding to a victim of rape. There was the hint of the morality tale in the portrayal of characters and the novel’s Although I enjoyed this short novel, it did not seem like the type of book that would be awarded a Pulitzer. It certainly illustrates how our taste in literary fiction has changed over the past century. This is the story of a young soldier who returns to his Iowa farming family and the girl he loves. I appreciated how far ahead of its time it seemed to be in describing a family responding to a victim of rape. There was the hint of the morality tale in the portrayal of characters and the novel’s resolution. Hard work and decency are rewarded in the end while cruelty and laziness are punished by forces beyond human justice. I was disappointed that the author did not capture the Scottish dialect. At one point, a younger brother being educated in Chicago criticizes the family for a speech that is neither English nor Scottish. But, the dialogue only contains smatterings of phrases such as “wee one” or “lass”. 3.5 stars

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bookslut

    I really liked this, and couldn't put it down. I don't know why, but I am really feeling it with the turn of the century literature these days! I found this a very pleasant Pulitzer to work through, and thought the setting was brilliantly done. I loved the wheat. I also really enjoyed having the original first edition, which was sent from a library in Tallahassee. The book was the perfect size, and had absurdly thick pages, and came by its 100 years of old book scent honestly. It was a rare trea I really liked this, and couldn't put it down. I don't know why, but I am really feeling it with the turn of the century literature these days! I found this a very pleasant Pulitzer to work through, and thought the setting was brilliantly done. I loved the wheat. I also really enjoyed having the original first edition, which was sent from a library in Tallahassee. The book was the perfect size, and had absurdly thick pages, and came by its 100 years of old book scent honestly. It was a rare treat.

  11. 4 out of 5

    SusanInSedalia

    Melodramatic mess with a couple of awkward flash forwards. Can't believe it won the Pulitzer award for fiction.

  12. 4 out of 5

    M F

    Having just escaped from a hellish brush with Quebecois regionalism (thanks, Riguet), I couldn’t wait to open the pages of this new book: Margaret Wilson’s The Able McLaughlins, the next entry in my foray through the Pulitzer Award winners for fiction. Best to just jump right into it and erase the bad memories before they have a chance to encode, I thought, so I turned to page 1, hoping for a bit of that perhaps-a bit-dull-but-at least-mildly-interesting urban realism with which Pulitzer folks o Having just escaped from a hellish brush with Quebecois regionalism (thanks, Riguet), I couldn’t wait to open the pages of this new book: Margaret Wilson’s The Able McLaughlins, the next entry in my foray through the Pulitzer Award winners for fiction. Best to just jump right into it and erase the bad memories before they have a chance to encode, I thought, so I turned to page 1, hoping for a bit of that perhaps-a bit-dull-but-at least-mildly-interesting urban realism with which Pulitzer folks of the 1920s seemed obsessed. What I found was this: “The prairie lay that afternoon as it had lain for centuries of September afternoons, vast as an ocean; motionless as an ocean coaxed into very little ripples by languid breezes; silent as an ocean where only very little waves slip back into their element. One might have walked for hours with hearing anything louder than high white clouds casting shadows over the distances, or the tall slough grass bending lazily into waves.” F%%%@#$#$%#%#$%$%@#$@3$#@$#$@#$$@$!!!!!!! Pulitzer people, why hast thou forsaken me?? Yes, the literary Gods had placed another regionalist novel in front of me at my weakest hour, this time set in civil war-era Iowa (which is to say, a wheat field dotted with a thatched cottage every twenty miles or so). Like Thirty Acres before it (on my reading list, that is), the novel’s action traces the exploits of a young farmer protagonist—this time, Wully McLaughlin, a Scotch Covenanter who has just returned from the civil war--as he enters adulthood (in other words, gets him a wife, and gets him a child, and then starts farming). The scope, though, is less ambitious in this novel than in Thirty Acres, spanning only a couple years of Wully’s life rather than tracing his entire adult life from spring to winter. I won’t lie to you, though, it’s still a regionalist novel, and outside of a few major plot events and some humourous sketches, it’s still fairly dull most of the time. Perhaps because of its more limited scope, the novel’s characters are much more clearly drawn, and are one of its few strengths. Wully’s mother, Isobel, is a woman torn between her kind heart and her religious beliefs, and beaten down by her realization that the America promised to them in Scotland is not quite what they found when they arrived. The community members around them, too, are all distinguished in one way or another through particularities of character—Wully’s aunt, for instance, haunted by her grief for her missing son, and his father-in-law, bent to the yoke by his new Scottish bride who punishes him for deceiving her by forcing him to create, in the Iowan plains, the things he promised her he had in order to convince her to marry him. Unfortunately, Chirstie, probably the novel's most important character, is also one of its less fleshed out, filtered entirely through her husband's unimaginative perspective. Now on to the bad: the narrative voice is a poor echo of Little Women’s, a saccharine consciousness obsessed with adverbs and adjectives and overly fond of exclamations, as in the following: “Hughie was not, like the others, at home because he was too small to go to school. Indeed, no! Hughie was ten, and at home to-day because he had been chilling, the day before, with the fever that rose from the newly-broken prairie. The three of them sat quietly only a moment.'Why does he frisk his tail so?' Davie asked.'He’s praising the Lord,' replied Hughie, wise and wan.'Is he now!' exclaimed Davie, impressed.” Such passages are tough to read, and there are many of them, some of which are so amateurishly written that it’s hard to believe they made the final cut. See, for instance, the following delight: “He loved his land like a blind and passionate lover” (38). Also, at one point, the narrator switches at random between past and present tense, so that it feels like the story is being told by an infant who has not yet mastered the fundamentals of language but is so excited to tell their story that they forge ahead regardless. There are also occasional intentional shifts to present tense which provide information about the characters' fates in the narrator's present world. However, these serve no discernible purpose within the narrative structure and, thus, function only as reminders of how clumsy a writer Wilson is. Fortunately, the writing quality improves as the novel goes on, and the narrator is often more self-aware than some of the novel’s more pastoral moments might suggest; later in the novel’s first passage quoted above, Wilson writes, “Davie sat for some time sharing his Maker’s pleasure in the antics of happy calves. Then bored—perhaps like his Maker—he turned to other things” (8). As the passage suggests, Wilson makes use of a good helping of irony, and some of the most entertaining moments are when she engages in farce, poking fun at the rigidity of beliefs and eccentricities of the community’s characters, such as in her humourous description of Wully’s stingy grandmother, who buys up her son’s belongings at auction when he is evicted from his house in Scotland and sells his stuff at a huge profit, then refuses to share any of the money with him. As a result, he must wait until she dies to claim some of the money from the sale of his own property so that he can fulfill his dream of emigrating to America for the betterment of his family. Sometimes, though, because of the clunky writing, it’s not entirely clear whether Wilson is aware of how ridiculous the things she’s writing about are. The opening chapter contains one of the novel’s weirdest moments, as the narration suddenly shifts focalizers after 20 pages, moving from Wully’s third-person limited perspective to that of a “stranger” who is visiting the family, so that Wilson and the reader can have a little fun at the expense of the strictly religious McLaughlins. The logic of the shift is brilliant, but its execution is clumsy, and the humourous moment is sullied somewhat by the possibility that it is unintentional—that the narrator, and writer, are not in on the joke. The same thing happens in the funny-but-weird-as-hell scene when Wullly first meets his love interest, Chirstie (yes, that’s “Chirstie,” not “Christie,” at least in my edition of the novel, though the rest of the internet seems to believe it’s the latter, so maybe there are different versions). Telling her and her mother, Jeannie, that his own mother sent him to bring over some “squashes,” he goes out to the wagon and realizes that, flustered by Chirstie’s beauty, he forgot that what he has actually brought is ducks. Yes, ducks. Which raises a new problem: the women have no place to put ducks (apparently, they’d never seen Friends). The narrator notes awkwardly: “Now where would they put the ducks? They were all standing together now in the dooryard, the three ducks, the three humans. There was no place ready for the gifts” (47). Wully, of course, decides that the only thing to do is a built a coop for them, but another problem arises: “Just give him a few sticks. But there were no sticks.” Yes, that’s right: “sticks” are what we build coops out of. Happily, Chirstie remembers that there are “some bits of wood behind the barn,” and so the two women stand there while Wully builds an entire duck coop, Chirstie lustily “watching his skill in making duck shelters” (47). Now, I don’t know how long it takes to build a duck coop, because I didn’t even know ducks were kept in coops, but given that Wully’s likely going to have to cut the random bits of wood into something like boards--or, sorry, "sticks"--and since it’s the 19th century and there will be no tablesaw and electric planer, I have to figure this process is going to take at least a few hours, which means that Chirstie and her mother stand there long enough to die of gangrene as the blood pools in their feet. And that’s not even getting to the real problem: Jeannie and Wully's mother are good friends, which presumably means that they have been to each other’s homes. Why the hell would Isobel send over ducks when she knows Jeannie has no place to put them??!! That would be like me dropping off a Great Dane for my friend who lives in a studio apartment in Gastown; I can imagine how grateful he would be for the "gift." White elephants, indeed. Again, this scene is quite funny, but I’m just not sure that Wilson is as aware of the humour as her reader. But I guess it’s sort of like the Evil Dead thing: it doesn’t really matter whether it was meant to be funny or not—let’s just enjoy it! It's not all bad, though: the oddest, and best, part of the novel is that the saccharine narration belies what is a fairly dark streak; especially early on, it almost reads like a new genre, one which I will call decorous batsh#@. It feels a bit like reading a mashup of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, with all the parts strewn about at random so that one never knows whether the sing-songy narrator is leading one through twenty pages of lamb shearing and wheat harvesting or to some poor sot stumbling over a Tyger burning brightly in the furrows between cornrows. After a long stretch of relatively earnest and pastoral writing to begin the novel, for instance, the narrator suddenly shifts to a civil war battleground and croons to us this horror: “Some on the snow-covered hillsides were throwing body after body into them, some were shoveling earth in upon them. He had bent down to tug at a stiff thing half hidden by snow, he had turned it over, a head grotesquely twisted backward, a neck mud-plastered, horrible, bloody. Then he had cried out, and fallen down. That thing, with the lower face shot away, was Allen” (24). With little warning, we suddenly find ourselves a long way from the agrarian dreamscape of the McLaughlins’ Iowa farm, and the early sections of the novel are fascinating when they hint at the effects of such trauma on Wully’s character. This could have made for a wonderfully powerful novel; unfortunately, though, once Wully re-immerses himself into the rhythms of farm life, the civil war and its effects on the people who have rejoined their communities disappears as suddenly as Allen’s body appears in the passage above. Fortunately, Wilson redeems the narrative by introducing a second traumatic incident that will sporadically haunt Wully, his wife, and his family for the rest of the novel’s pages, and though the exploration of trauma is compromised by its filtration through Wilson’s sentimental narration, there’s plenty of interest to be found in the glimpses we get of its impact on the characters’ lives. In the end, this is one of the weirdest regionalist pieces I’ve ever read, and even if the weirdness is unintentional, the results are occasionally entertaining, even profound. I still don’t know that I’d recommend this novel, but it’s certainly better than Thirty Acres, and though it’s not as good a novel as some of the other Pulitzer winner to this point, like The Magnificent Ambersons, Alice Adams, or One of Ours--which are not, by any means, great novels—it is, in some ways, a more compelling read. I’m still giving this two stars, but, in the words of Anthony Fantano, it’s a “strong 2.”

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melissa (ladybug)

    I loved this book. I started to read it and found myself having a hard time putting it down. It was really descriptive of what the Civil War and the aftermath for one family was like. I liked the fact that Wully didn't let what happened to Christie stop him from loving, marrying and caring for her and her son. Wully tried his hardest to care for her and I believe he was successful in the end.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zorro

    1924.....Hmmm. Virginia Woolf was writing at this time. Americans Fitzgerald,Hemmingway, Faulkner hmmmm....and this was the best the US could choose??? Sweet story.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Margaret Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for The Able McLaughlins in 1924. The story is about a Scotish family who pioneer the Iowa wilderness in the 1860's. I enjoyed the story but the character development was not up to some of the other Pulitzers I have read. I did, however, greatly enjoy the ending of this book as the final conflict is resolved with the main characters with a superb demonstration of forgiveness. I give this book 4 stars.

  16. 5 out of 5

    P.S. Winn

    This is an intriguing story that takes readers back to the civil war and a strange situation when Wully McLaughlin returns from the war and finds the woman he loved pregnant with another man’s child. I think stories like this are fascinating.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This work totally engrossed me. Published in 1924 it tells the story of Wully who was returning to his prairie home after serving in the Civil War. This is a story of a Scottish clan, Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and cousins who became Americans by dint of very hard work and tenacity. The plot was very shocking, I am certain, when it was published because it touches on a subject that was very taboo. The hundred year old work felt very alive and fresh to me. I enjoyed spending time with thes This work totally engrossed me. Published in 1924 it tells the story of Wully who was returning to his prairie home after serving in the Civil War. This is a story of a Scottish clan, Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and cousins who became Americans by dint of very hard work and tenacity. The plot was very shocking, I am certain, when it was published because it touches on a subject that was very taboo. The hundred year old work felt very alive and fresh to me. I enjoyed spending time with these characters. This is a Pulitzer Prize winning work when it was published. I totally see why.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Manda

    Nomadic SA Chick's Book Reviews Summary Wully is in love with Christie, but doesn't realize it he's about tp return to the fight in the Civil War. Wully promises Christie that as soon as he returns they will get married and start their lives together. Christie is excited about her future. Though her father is recently deceased, and her mother is severely depressed, Christie carries on with her days, caring for her younger siblings, and waiting for Wully's return. Wully is shocked he he comes home Nomadic SA Chick's Book Reviews Summary Wully is in love with Christie, but doesn't realize it he's about tp return to the fight in the Civil War. Wully promises Christie that as soon as he returns they will get married and start their lives together. Christie is excited about her future. Though her father is recently deceased, and her mother is severely depressed, Christie carries on with her days, caring for her younger siblings, and waiting for Wully's return. Wully is shocked he he comes home to find that Christie is not the sweet loving girl he left behind. She's not scared and pregnant with another man's child. This does not matter to Wully, he loves Christie unconditionally, and follows through with his promise, even if it means taking credit for Christie's baby and shaming his family's name. Review I had to talk myself into picking this book up. I made the mistake of reading reviews before had and saw so much hate for this book. I was dreading what was between the covers. I am so happy the dread was pointless. I loved this book. Wilson decorates the pages with beautiful and heart-felt prose that make your heart ache for Christie and fall in love with Wully for being such a good human. Growing up in Iowa and spending a lot of time in small towns, I can tell you that this is still very reflective of life there. Neighbors know each other, care about one another, and community actually means something. So does someone's family name and reputation; these things are more important than your credit score. Much like Wilson's Iowa town, small town Iowans look out for one another. Ratings (based on a 10 point scale) Quality of Writing - 8 Pace - 6 Plot Development - 7 Characters - 8 Enjoyability - 9 Insightfulness - 6 Ease of Reading - 7 Photos/Illustrations - N/A Overall Rating - 5 out of 5 stars

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dusty

    The easiest way to summarize this likeable melodrama would be to focus on the male protagonist, Wully McLaughlin. The oldest boy in a family fairly recently immigrated from Scotland to Iowa, Wully is a reluctant Union soldier who comes home after the war's end, discovers the sweetheart he had been dreaming of marrying has been raped by another man (Wully's cousin), and then begins a family with this dark cloud of sexual abuse behind him. However, I think a better summary would focus on the older The easiest way to summarize this likeable melodrama would be to focus on the male protagonist, Wully McLaughlin. The oldest boy in a family fairly recently immigrated from Scotland to Iowa, Wully is a reluctant Union soldier who comes home after the war's end, discovers the sweetheart he had been dreaming of marrying has been raped by another man (Wully's cousin), and then begins a family with this dark cloud of sexual abuse behind him. However, I think a better summary would focus on the older women who weave in and out of Wully's life and are, without a doubt, the most richly drawn personages. Wully's mother, Isobel, who loves her son a little more forwardly than an outside observer might think appropriate, is the real star of the book, and Wully's stepmother-in-law, Barbara, executes a fabulously entertaining feminist rebellion against her good-for-nothing country husband. Wilson excels at infusing her story of rural Iowa in the late 1860s with regionalist charm, but her aim exceeds her grasp. She seems to want to draw some kind of link between this story of the sprawling McLaughlin clan in the 1870s and the world she herself knows in the early 1920s, but this is only suggested in odd paragraphs that interrupt the first few chapters and discuss a future relationship between one of Wully's brothers (Andrew) and the heirs of the man who drives Wully home during his leave from the war. Maybe this is cleared up in the sequel?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    I love reading Pulitzer Prize winners for what they reveal about what was on the United States' mind, so to speak. Especially because they often seem to be set in the past, and it can be very interesting to see what the past (in this case, 1924) thought about the past past (in this case, prairie life around the end of the Civil War). This book is a simple story, simply told, with a surprisingly thoughtful ending and a bit of an interesting glimpse into the frontier prairie life. It has an old-fa I love reading Pulitzer Prize winners for what they reveal about what was on the United States' mind, so to speak. Especially because they often seem to be set in the past, and it can be very interesting to see what the past (in this case, 1924) thought about the past past (in this case, prairie life around the end of the Civil War). This book is a simple story, simply told, with a surprisingly thoughtful ending and a bit of an interesting glimpse into the frontier prairie life. It has an old-fashioned feel to its phrasing and isn't particularly literary or heavy; it goes quickly and draws you into the life of the two-main-characters couple. It is sufficiently interesting about the Scottish immigrant community in which this couple dwells, but more interesting for its moral statement on human character and rising to the occasion.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    I wanted to like this book, I tried, I really did. After seeking out and purchasing a rather pricey used copy (because not a single edition was to be found within my entire inter-library loan system) it only made sense to give it every opportunity to prove itself. Sadly, it turned out to be a disappointment. The writing was so awkward and choppy and the characters acted inconsistently enough that I found it difficult to conceive how it won the 1924 Pulitzer for fiction. What is perfectly clear, I wanted to like this book, I tried, I really did. After seeking out and purchasing a rather pricey used copy (because not a single edition was to be found within my entire inter-library loan system) it only made sense to give it every opportunity to prove itself. Sadly, it turned out to be a disappointment. The writing was so awkward and choppy and the characters acted inconsistently enough that I found it difficult to conceive how it won the 1924 Pulitzer for fiction. What is perfectly clear, however, is why it has now sunk into obscurity. If you have an opportunity to read it and don't mind spending your time on a mildly interesting story and mediocre writing it's possible it might be worth the effort but I'd avoid going to a lot of trouble to put your hands on it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sbussey

    From 1915, the account of a Scottish immigrant family settling in Iowa when it was still the frontier. Not sure why I never heard of this book or this author, but I thought this was surprising. It was easy to read, had strong characters (especially strong female characters, for the time period), represents a historical moment. It might not be strong on lists because it is more realist/naturalist, when the novel form is shifting to modernism. But I would gladly assign this over "The Octopus" or a From 1915, the account of a Scottish immigrant family settling in Iowa when it was still the frontier. Not sure why I never heard of this book or this author, but I thought this was surprising. It was easy to read, had strong characters (especially strong female characters, for the time period), represents a historical moment. It might not be strong on lists because it is more realist/naturalist, when the novel form is shifting to modernism. But I would gladly assign this over "The Octopus" or any Steinbeck...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Diego

    The characters are lovable, funny, and enduring. The book is a drama - a young man promptly marries his pregnant sweetheart (there's more to it) to save her from the shame of a shotgun wedding and spare her from the scorn of her neighbors - but the focus is much more centered on this community of immigrants, their mannerisms, and how they all get along. It’s the relationships of the people involved that bring this story to life and give it its sharp comic edge. I enjoyed it very much.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    A nice gentle story about a man returning to his family after the Civil War that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924. Not a heavy book, like many Pulitzer novels are... more like Little House on the Prairie for grownups. Enjoyable if you can find it, but the book is scarce. I couldn't even find a copy at Powell's, wound up borrowing it from the library.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I may be weird, but I loved this book!! It was definitely a different kind of writing style than we are used to, but kind of reminded me of Conrad Richter (who I happen to really like!). I thought that Wully and Cristie learned and grew so much together as they were married and I loved how they changed by the end of the story. And the mother-in-law figure is sooo fantastic. loved it!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Pogan

    Well written for the most part. The first page verged on poetic verse and I was hoping that this would continue throughout the book but it was fairly inconsistent after that, which was disappointing. The story is about a Civil War soldier returning to find his girlfriend is pregnant by another man and so he marries her to protect her dignity and all of the drama that follows.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    A great story! I love when good conquers evil and when love conquers all! Great characters!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    I can see how this book would have won the Pulitzer Prize. The craftsmanship of the writing is simple but beautiful in its simplicity. The story is about chain migration of the Scots to Iowa from 1840-1865 and the difficulties of prairie life. The resolution of the plot would be unacceptable by today's standards. The main character had married a woman who had suffered her cousin raping her. The marriage was done quickly because he wanted people to think that the child, the product of the rape, w I can see how this book would have won the Pulitzer Prize. The craftsmanship of the writing is simple but beautiful in its simplicity. The story is about chain migration of the Scots to Iowa from 1840-1865 and the difficulties of prairie life. The resolution of the plot would be unacceptable by today's standards. The main character had married a woman who had suffered her cousin raping her. The marriage was done quickly because he wanted people to think that the child, the product of the rape, was his child. People were scandalized, but he preferred they think poorly of him rather than the innocent child. One should note that the audience is never told that she was raped, but the animal terror exhibited when the rapist returns provides the evidence. The book ends with the woman unable to look at or stand the presence of her rapist, but her husband decides that the man should be forgiven because the main character had the joy of his wife's and child's love. Literally, he forgives the rapist in his heart, and the author writes, "The End". Clearly, the woman should have been the focus of the story and her path to forgiveness or refusal. So, what Margaret Wilson viewed as the power structure in 1924 has changed greatly by 2018. Read this as a sociological study of the attitudes of Americans in the 1920's toward sexuality and secularism, but don't be shocked by the ending!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    At first glance this work would be described as the story of Wully McLaughlin as he returns from the Civil War to his sprawling Scottish family on the plains of a developing country. But this work is less about Wully as much as it is about the women who support him. It is not about the men of the plains. Wilson even goes so far as to point out that the husband of a significant character is of no account. The villain of this work, Peter Keith, violates his cousin Chirstie and is secretly run off At first glance this work would be described as the story of Wully McLaughlin as he returns from the Civil War to his sprawling Scottish family on the plains of a developing country. But this work is less about Wully as much as it is about the women who support him. It is not about the men of the plains. Wilson even goes so far as to point out that the husband of a significant character is of no account. The villain of this work, Peter Keith, violates his cousin Chirstie and is secretly run off by Wully, who marries Chirstie and raises the child of that violation as his own. Peter Keith is a no account, yet his mother dotes on him endlessly, searching far and wide for her missing son, having lost her only other children and working so hard to save this one. Wully's mother, Isobel McLaughlin is a strong woman who also dotes on her many sons and holds the clan together. Chirstie's step-mother Barbara McNair is another example of determined strength. A Scottish woman who is brought to the new country under promise of living a high lifestyle she is greeted by less than grandeur, living in a sty. She persists until she is able to get her husband to do right by her and live up to the promises he made. This is a powerful novel not of just matriarchal strength, but one of vengeance, mercy and forgiving.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brian Reynolds

    Overall, I enjoyed reading this 1924 Pulitzer winner. The examination of life in rural 1860s Iowa develops from a slice of life tale to a more compelling and suspenseful story during most of the second half. I thought the plot was both interesting and well done, as were the descriptions of the frontier prairie life. However, I thought some of the characters, especially the female romantic lead Chirstie, were slightly superficial and under-developed. I’m not sure I ever knew Chirstie. However, Ch Overall, I enjoyed reading this 1924 Pulitzer winner. The examination of life in rural 1860s Iowa develops from a slice of life tale to a more compelling and suspenseful story during most of the second half. I thought the plot was both interesting and well done, as were the descriptions of the frontier prairie life. However, I thought some of the characters, especially the female romantic lead Chirstie, were slightly superficial and under-developed. I’m not sure I ever knew Chirstie. However, Chirstie’s stepmother was a well-rounded character. I became more interested whenever she entered the story. I also thought the writing was sufficient and clear, but paled in comparison to the elegant and atmospheric writing of the preceding and succeeding Pulitzer winning portraits of Midwest farm life, Willa Cather’s One of Ours and Edna Ferber’s So Big. However, as mentioned, the descriptions of the rural life were sufficiently descriptive to keep my interest. Those who read this book will likely do so because it is a Pulitzer winner. One reviewer of the time said: "the book is so good as a first novel that it is impossible not to regret that it must always be judged as a prize novel." While this might not be top tier writing, the story is good enough and short enough to be worth the time. I was entertained enough, so a 3 star read.

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