“Maud’s Line” by Margaret Verble

9780544471924_p0_v4_s1200x630Maud is a young Cherokee woman living in the rural Oklahoma of 1928. Left by the untimely death of her mother, Maud tends the family home and land, caring for her gentle brother and for a father who “acted badly with the same regularity as the rooster crowed at dawn.”

“At eighteen, she was fit, dark, and tall like the rest of her mother’s family and most of her tribe. She was more of a willow than an oak, and her figure and personality had grown pleasing to every male within a twenty-mile radius, to some of the women, too, and to most of the animals. Maud carried that admiration the way eggs are carried in a basket, carefully, with a little tenderness, but without minding too closely the individual.”

This radiant woman wants desperately to escape the oppressive poverty of her family, to explore the world and try new things. Like most women of the time (and too many still today), Maud believes that her ticket out is a man. Surrounded by men, she is wise to their ways and to the world; as an astute observer of character and surroundings, Maud knows what she wants.

“Maud wanted someone who was as stable as her daddy was shaky. Someone who would talk to her about books and ideas, who would take her to exciting places, who thought indoor plumbing and electricity were basics of life.”

“She liked books, learning, and clean things. She liked folks being nice to one another. But most of all, she wanted to live in a place where people died of natural causes when they were old and were dressed up in suits and laid down in wooden boxes.”

Margaret Verble’s debut novel is a coming of age story. It is a tale of the aching, yearning, and heartbreak of a headstrong woman looking desperately for a way forward. Verble’s prose has moments of sparkle, outtakes of simple beauty and tongue-in-cheek wit. Too often, however, her words felt a bit flat, her tone depressed by the stage she sets. The story slowly builds and builds, only to be abruptly cut off, too neatly tied up in a few pages that felt hurried and sketchy.

Though it is far from uplifting, “Maud’s Line” doesn’t demand intellectual heavy lifting or deep emotional commitment. All told, it is a fine novel suited for a summer read. In my opinion, though, it is a surprising choice as a Pulitzer Prize finalist, especially in the face of some of the other great works of the year, such as Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale”, Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life”, and Sara Novic’s “Girl at War.”

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