By Barbara Lounsberry, Past President of the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association
The short stories and novels of Ruth Suckow preserve and explore Midwestern farm and small town life in the first half of the twentieth century.
Of special note are her insights into:
The Rural Community
In her short story “A Rural Community,” Ralph Chapin, an orphan raised by Luke Hockaday and his wife on their farm, comes home after his travels as a freelance newsman. This story celebrates the deep stability, continuity, and quiet of rural life. As he leaves on the train at the end of the story, Suckow writes: “Tomorrow, this little place would seem a million miles away—almost out of existence. But he was aware that since he had stepped off the train in the morning, the current of his thoughts had been changed. He felt steadied, deeply satisfied. He looked toward the dark pastures beyond the row of dusky willow trees. They widened slowly into the open country which lay silent, significant, motionless, immense, under the stars, with its sense of something abiding. To come back to it was to touch the core of things.”
- In the short story “Midwestern Primitive,” Bert Statzer tries to impress others by imitating East Coast fashions and styles while her mother, Mrs. Honenschuh, a German farm wife (and widow), insists on being totally herself. Suckow contrasts Mrs. Honenschuh’s real garden and flowers with Bert’s fake sweet peas, and asks us to evaluate what is really “Midwestern primitive”?
- In Suckow’s short story “The Renters,” honest, hardworking renter Fred Mutchler and his wife face a series of misfortunes. Their bad luck is enhanced by the fact that “Old Lady Hunt,” who lives in town, would rather have her grand farmhouse fall to ruin than let the Mutchlers live in it. This moving short story explores the ways the rich intimidate the poor, how poverty compounds bad luck, the difficulty of maintaining hope, and the difficulty of breaking out of this cycle.
- In “A Start in Life,” Daisy Switzer must leave her hard working widow mother to become a hired girl. Daisy’s “start in life” includes her first recognition of class and the hardness of life.
Leaving the Farm
- The short story “Retired” presents a day in the life of Seth Patterson, a retired farmer who has moved to town. March weather makes Seth yearn for the farm. The retired farmers gather at the Produce House, but Seth wonders “When a man’s work was over, what was there left to live for, anyway?”
- In “A Pilgrim and a Stranger,” ailing retired farmer Enos Bush yearns to return home to Iowa from his son’s home in Denver. This short story again underscores the importance of place and work.
- In “Just Him and Her,” Lew Davies and his wife are retired farmers who have moved to town. Another story that explores loss of identity and purpose as well as human caring.
Credits: all of these photos are of Cherie Dargan's relatives, long time residents of Central Iowa.
Last Updated June 6, 2012