I’ve been remiss in telling you how much I’ve loved reading this book. Joyce Maynard has long been a great favorite of mine, and my impression was enhanced when I read her novel Labor Day early this fall.
The Good Daughters is all that Labor Day was, and more. It’s the story of two families, more specifically, two daughters, growing up in rural New Hampshire during the 1950s, coming to adulthood in the 1980’s, and extending into their middle age years in the present day. It’s a story about the way fate intervenes in a life and sends it veering off into a different direction, about the power of legacy, and the strange, unknowable ties of family. It’s a story about the importance of knowing who we are and where we came from.
Ruth Plank is creative, artistic, and romantic, with a rich imagination. She is as unlike her four, stodgy older sisters as she could possibly be. Dana Dickerson is a born scientist, she’s curious about the world around her, and gets more excited about the prospect of planting seeds or grafting strawberry vines than about the latest fashions or rock and roll singers. She has no patience with the flights of fancy to which both her mother (an artist) and her father (a failed inventor) are prone. The Plank family is part of long line of farmers, holding land that has been in the family for an epic number of generations. While the Dickersons are fly by nights, drifters, ne’er do wells, who never stay in one place very long.
The girls are born on the same day – “Birthday Sisters,” Ruth’s mother dubs them. While time and the modern world conspire to separate them, life keeps throwing them together. Finally, unbelievable secrets about their shared past come to light, and they are forced to rethink everything they’ve ever believed about themselves and each other.
This story is masterfully and compactly told in the girls alternating voices, heard across decades of life and experiences. Maynard has a wonderful talent for creating people and places that come alive on the page and in the reader’s mind. I was caught up in this story from the very first lines…
It begins with a humid wind, blowing across the fields from the northeast, and strangely warm for this time of year. Even before the wind reaches the house, Edwin Plank sees it coming, rippling over the dry grass, the last rows of cornstalks still standing in the lower field below the barn, the one place the tractor hasn’t got to yet.
In the space of time it takes a man to pour his coffee and call the dog in (though Sadie knows to come; the wind has sent her running toward the house), the sky grows dark. Crows circle the barn, and starlings, looking for the rafters. It’s not yet four o’clock, and daylight savings time will be ending soon, but with the son no longer visible behind the low, flat wall of cloud cover rolling in, it could be sunset, and maybe that’s why the cattle are making their long, low sounds of discontent. Things are not as they should be on the farm, and animals always know.
This is a compelling tale, beautifully told. Indulge yourself in it, savor it, and enjoy.