Literary Award Winners Fiction Book Club discussion

The Able McLaughlins (The McLaughlins, #1)
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Past Reads > The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson, Chapters 11 to end

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George (georgejazz) | 505 comments Mod
Please comment here on The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson, Chapters 11 to end.

Irene | 561 comments The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson

Although I enjoyed this short novel, it did not seem like the type of book that would be awarded a Pulitzer. It certainly illustrates how our taste in literary fiction has changed over the past century. This is the story of a young soldier who returns to his Iowa farming family and the girl he loves. I appreciated how far ahead of its time it seemed to be in describing a family responding to a victim of rape. There was the hint of the morality tale in the portrayal of characters and the novel’s resolution. Hard work and decency are rewarded in the end while cruelty and laziness are punished by forces beyond human justice. I was disappointed that the author did not capture the Scottish dialect. At one point, a younger brother being educated in Chicago criticizes the family for a speech that is neither English nor Scottish. But, the dialogue only contains smatterings of phrases such as “wee one” or “lass”. 3.5 stars

George (georgejazz) | 505 comments Mod
It's a sweet story with likeable characters and an interesting plot. It's a well told, simply written, entertaining story. Wilson's writing style is not innovative or original and I agree, not a book I would expect to win a Pilitzer. However I am glad I read it.

The novel provides good descriptions of the hard working life of the Scottish immigrant farmers. I liked Chirstie's step mother, Barbara McNair, enjoying her battle with her husband to have a house built that was a little better than Wullie's house!

Yes, there certainly was a hint of a morality tale but it wasn't as overbearing as "Little Women"! - which I enjoyed anyway.

Agreed, not much in the way of Scottish dialect apart from a phrase or two here and there. Probably done on purpose to make the book accessible to the majority of American readers. More dialect would have enhanced the uniqueness of the Scots immigrants and possibly brought out their characters more. I thought there were moments when Wilson did capture the 'Scottishness' of the McLaughlins and McNairs. The willingness to help one another, living in harsh conditions, thriftiness examples and coping with the bitterly cold winters.

Overall, even though the writing style is fairly simple, I really enjoyed reading this story.
(Disclosure: I have a bias towards anything Scottish, having a Scottish wife, mother and grandmother!)

Irene | 561 comments I enjoyed it also. I ended up giving it 4 stars because GR won't allow a 3.5 star rating. What bumped it up for me was its treatment of rape. I would expect that compassion for the raped woman and the ability of the husband and his family to see the child as fully his, was daring in 1923.

George (georgejazz) | 505 comments Mod
Yes, agreed. Maybe the treatment of this issue was the reason the Pulitzer was awarded.

I thought Chirstie and Wullie's actions throughout the story were fairly true to character. Chirstie being extremely shaken by the rape and her actions to Peter actually fronting up to her again a couple of years later. Wullie being outraged and wanting revenge.

I was a little confused by Wullie's mother's behaviour given she was told the baby wasn't Wullie's. I can understand the relief she had that her son hadn't had sex with Chirstie prior to marriage, but I couldn't quite understand her behaviour towards Peter's mother.

Irene | 561 comments I wondered if that is why it was given the Pulitzer also.

I thought that Mrs. McLaughlin, Wully, Cherstie, etc were all depicted in overly virtuous strokes in order to show that God rewards thee virtuous. Peter is destroyed, but Wully nor his mother nor Cherstie are ever guilty of behavior that would break the moral code of any church going reader. Mrs. McLaughlin is generous, kind and sympathetic to a fault. I think we were supposed to attribute her kindness to Peter's mother as coming from her genuine goodness and the ability to empathize with another woman struggling in this isolated place. The woman had already lost so many children to death; Peter was the only one to survive. Any good person would have to find some kindness to this woman's plight, even if her son was a rapist. I also wondered if Wilson drew these characters in such pure strokes to make their kindness to Cherstie more acceptable. I would think that the prevailing view of the day was that a raped woman was partially guilty for what happened. If these good people, beyond reproof could accept and love Cherstie and the child unreservedly, then maybe the reader might feel some love for her also.

George (georgejazz) | 505 comments Mod
Irene, thanks for your comments. You have certainly given me a better understanding and appreciation of this novel. Yes, Mrs McLaughlin and Chirstie are overly virtuous. Peter doesn't have a redeeming aspect to his character.

Chirstie's personality isn't developed beyond being vulnerable and frightened. We never find out whether she loved Wully, rather she accepts her marriage to him very reluctantly, due to her circumstances.

Barbara McNair was my favourite character. She is kind hearted, generous, independent and the perfect stepmother-in-law!

Irene | 561 comments I also liked Barbara. I loved the way she was able to demand her rights while never degrading herself or her husband.

I think we were supposed to conclude that Chirstie loved Wully. They both have that spark on the summer day when they meet when he is home on leave. As a couple, they seem very content with each other.

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