HERBS AND APPLES by Helen Hooven Santmyer
Kirkus Star


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Santmyer's (. . .And Ladies Of The Club; Ohio Town) spotty first novel, originally published in 1925 by Houghton Mifflin, is another celebration of small-town America during the early 20th-century. In this semiautobiographical story, Derrick Thornton has decided, at age 11, to become a great writer. In a town as small and traditional as Tecumseh, Ohio, she's regarded as ""queer,"" collecting material for her novels while other girls dream of marriage and children. In college she and several friends form a tightknit group, discussing aesthetics, God, poetry, immortality and, of course, greatness. Derrick tells her friends, ""It's women who demand things of each other, women who accomplish do it because they are driven by sisters or aunts or frank and brutal female friends--like you!"" The group moves to New York City, where Derrick works for a literary magazine, pursuing her dream. But WW I has broken out, a boy she loves is killed, and she learns that her mother is dying. In a profound (and not entirely believable) turn of events, Derrick moves back to Tecumseh, abandoning her dream of writing and greatness to take her mother's place in the family. As in her other fiction, Santmyer enmeshes her characters in family, small-town life, and Calvinism; Sue, the story's narrator and Derrick's close friend, is amazed to find Derrick happy with the ordinary--teaching school in Tecumseh. Derrick has, she tells Sue, finally become convinced of ""the uselessness of our scrambling little attempts"" in the world. Santmyer's fans will no doubt welcome her familiar themes, but this is very much a first novel. The writing is often stilted (""The doctor negatived this proposal firmly""), and the story, dramatic at times to the point of silliness, strains credibility.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row