Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Love, Death, and the Ladies' Drill Team by Jessamyn West

The stories in Love, Death, and the Ladies' Drill Team were written by Jessamyn West between 1939 and 1955 and evoke a world that seems now very distant. Most are set in rural California among farmers and small town merchants when life was slow and the outside world was very far away. The most advanced technology was radio and the sound equipment that Leonard Hobart sets up at the baseball field in the small town of Tennant in the story "Public-Address System." The pressure of conformity from suburbia had not reached most of these people. Being eccentric was not only tolerated, it was almost expected.

No one has air conditioning. In the heat of the summer night, a person walking down a town street can see in every window, where many people seem to be playing cards, either in groups of four or alone. Traveling salesmen are still called drummers. Itinerant painters paint barns. Jilted lovers wait anxiously for letters, not email. The wealthy own homes with rooms just for dining with big tables covered by cloth, cabinets full of china, and ferns by the windows.

As a baby boomer who was born into this world at the point it was disappearing, I find the details fascinating. I also like West's writing. In the story "A Little Collar for the Monkey", she wrote the following:

"The floor boards were still warm from yesterday's heat, and the feel of that lingering warmth excited Mrs. Prosper. A small ripple shook her, as if she had been some variety of electrical mechanism suddenly enjoying the shock of a propulsive voltage."

Many of West's stories ran in the mid-centruy issues of the New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and Saturday Evening Post. They belong on library shelves and on reading tables with stories by Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and other great short story writers of her time.

West, Jessamyn. Love, Death and the Ladies' Drill Team. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955. No ISBN because they did not exist.

For more information on Jessamyn West go to Jessamyn West's page on Jessamyn West.


Jessamyn said...

Hiya -- I copied your paragraph here and tossed it up on Open Library. Hope that's okay.'_drill_team

ricklibrarian said...

Jessamyn, I'm pleased that you liked the paragraph and have taken it to new readers.