THE WIDOW DOWN BY THE BROOK by Mary MacNeill

THE WIDOW DOWN BY THE BROOK

A Memoir of a Time Gone By
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A charming 1950s time capsule of self-reliance and community served without frills, New England’style. The 46-year-old manuscript (stored among MacNeill’s papers until now) begins in Connecticut. MacNeill’s husband, Wilmot, with terminal cancer, vows to get her settled in her own home before he dies. Despite her doubts, he buys an abandoned barn in a rural tundra called Canton Corner (population 440), but dies before heat, windows, and floors are completed. The 44-year-old MacNeill remains to build and to keep this record. With encyclopedic but not deadening detail (befitting her job as a librarian), she describes intricacies of house-building, including hanging doors, laying floors, and installing water pipes. Peppered throughout are references to things long past, like Dale Carnegie courses, practices like finding a last-minute book at the library for nighttime entertainment, and words like “lonesome” (not “lonely”) and “girls” (for females of all ages). Also true to its time are the author’s attitudes, such as her acceptance of her husband’s plan to buy a house——I didn’t ask questions, knowing that enlightenment would follow eventually.” Even her librarian’s job is not discussed in terms of career advancement; she likes books and people, especially when they ask for “The Cain and Abel Tragedy” but mean The Caine Mutiny. Yet she lives alone and accepts, even likes, it. So direct in its storytelling, so American in its idealization of home, and so perfect for actresses of a certain age that this is a natural for screen translation. Just as Walker Evans captures an entire era through a photograph of a house, so film may deepen the emotional meaning of this representative, though not transcendent, work. Forget the memoir’s lure of exotica. This work offers only homely truths: Every person needs someone, but if you lose or never find that person, you can make a home and take care of yourself. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-85969-6
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999