A Depression-era, lachrymose saga targeting the latest fashionable villain in literature: the absent mother.
During the Depression, hard times descend on rural Vermont, where teenaged Thomas and his younger sister, Margaret, have to live in a tent near Black Pond with their father, Henry Talcott, their farm having been foreclosed due to lack of slaughtering work. Compounding the economic crisis is the desertion of their mother, Irene, who has caught a bus to Collerton, Massachusetts, to work in the mills and save money to bring home. Or so the story goes, since the beautiful, sensitive Irene, despondent since the needless death of her last child, has decamped for good, leaving the two lonely children to be neglected by a haughty, brooding father who can’t provide for them. From time to time, the children are rescued and fed by such neighbors as the kind-hearted Gladys Bibeau, Henry’s fiancée until Irene turned his head; and the conniving, rich Farleys, who now own Henry’s land and aim to adopt Margaret as a playmate for their half-witted son Jesse-boy. Morris (A Hole in the Universe, 2004, etc.) piles on the misfortunes, and by the time the kids arrive at Mom’s doorstep, nothing can get worse for them—except that it does. Morris’s characters, save for the children, are cutouts, especially Irene, who appears merely blank, and father Henry, whose 11th-hour claim for his children after a course of general indifference makes no sense. Even the nuns in the orphanage are caricatures. Morris employs tricky devices for emotional effect, such as setting the novel in a fuzzy, bygone era full of nostalgic associations, but the reader quickly tires of emotional manipulation.
A mother remorselessly abandons her children in a cheap tearjerker.