Today I finished reading “…And Ladies of the Club” by Helen Hooven Santmyer. Originally published in 1982 in a small edition of two thousand copies, the novel became a #1 bestseller two years later. I originally heard about this book while I was still in high school and saw it in paperback form. It was the thickest paperback I had ever seen in my life (and still is). At over 1400 pages, this brick of a book caused a stir just by its heft alone. Its author, Helen Hooven Santmyer, spent sixty years writing it, and became a bestselling author at the age of 87. I had long wanted to read the novel someday, yet school, university and the myriad of much shorter books attracted my attention elsewhere. Since I knew I would be recuperating at home from minor surgery last month, I felt that then was the best time to start reading “…And Ladies of the Club”.
The story starts in 1868 as the graduating class of a women’s college decides to form a book club. Throughout the next 64 years, we read about the lives of these women as their worlds evolve and as the world evolves around them. The story takes place over four generations: the book club women get married, have children, endure floods and other hardships, suffer through presidential administrations, face the polio outbreak, World War I, the Great Depression and pages and pages of small-town Ohio late 19th-century scandals. All of this takes place around the biweekly Wednesday afternoon meetings of the Waynesboro Woman’s Club.
The large-format paperback edition that is seen above is a more recent imprint. It is the edition I read, and contains 1176 pages. The story is engrossing right from the start. I was drawn into these women’s lives and could not put this book down. I lugged this book around everywhere for the past month, and as I got more involved in these characters’ lives, I grew sadder as the passage of time saw them take ill and die. The deaths of the last two founding book club members, Sally Rausch and Anne Gordon, had me in tears. As I read the last pages of the novel today at work, I was thankfully alone upstairs in the staff room and had a good bawl as I read of the passing of Anne Gordon. I cannot recall if I ever cried after finishing a book.
I feel I must mention that the edition I read was littered throughout with spelling errors. Who edited this imprint? In one short paragraph alone, I found three typos. It was at first a distraction, then a game of hide-and-seek, to spot the typos over one thousand pages.
If you have the time and patience to fall into the lives of two dozen post-American Civil War women and their beloved book club, read “…And Ladies of the Club”. Helen Hooven Santmyer did not write many books, only three others, and I plan to read them all.