Today I finished reading Ohio Town, a portrait of Xenia, Ohio by the author of “…And Ladies of the Club”, Helen Hooven Santmyer. This is Santmyer’s only published work of nonfiction, chronicling her own reminiscences of the town she lived in all her life. After reading Ohio Town, I can see where Santmyer got her characters and settings for “…And Ladies of the Club”. I recommend reading these two books in the order I did, as I could then recall every person and place from the novel when I read their real-life inspirations from Xenia.
Santmyer writes long sentences, as she did in “…And Ladies of the Club”, and since I am going to read all five of her books in succession, I can see what I am in for. I don’t mind long sentences, separated by many clauses, asides, –sudden thoughts marked by dashes– yet thankfully no parenthetical insertions (which in very long sentences I find to be annoying). Long sentences such as hers usually require me to read through them at least twice, and I think that I must have ended up reading the mammoth 1176-page “…And Ladies of the Club” twice through in my quest to finish it.
In Ohio Town, Santmyer excels in depicting the town of her childhood. Her childhood memories of Xenia seem as vivid as those of her adult years. Even though she was born in 1895, her childhood experiences often mirrored my own, from some seven decades later. I often laughed out loud while reading about her schooltime pranks, and reminisced fondly as she told of her walks through forests and her explorations of swamps and railroad tracks. Ohio Town has given me the desire to see Xenia for myself, and although I know it cannot resemble the town as it was a century ago, Santmyer presents it as a living, breathing place that does not stand frozen in time, but lives parallel with us.
August 2016 edit: I visited Xenia, Ohio earlier this month. Read my Xenia report here.