THE FOLKS, by Ruth Suckow. Farrar and Rinehart, Inc, New York. 727 pp. $3.
Rich in solid, simple philosophy, fairly pungent with the fertile warth of the Iowa soil which nurtures its characters, "The Folks" is an understanding and deeply moving portrayal of the changing pattern of small-town life in the American Middle-West. Ruth Suckow does not look upon her people with the sophisticated, cynical, despising eyes of Sinclair Lewis, for she knows them well and has a true understanding of their problems and a profound sympathy for them in their struggle to adapt themselves to the basically altered conditions of modern life. The old security of farm, home, and church is gone and in its place there is a new and confusing set of standards and ideals. It may be a simple thing for the nomadic urbanites to fit in this new mold but for the country folk it is puzzling and upsetting to change the serene, soil-rooted tenor of their lives in accordance with these new and unfamiliar conditions. Upon this background Miss Suckow has fashioned an absorbing and deeply satisfying novel.
"The Ferguson family of Belmond, Iowa, are more than merely an Iowa farming family, they are truly typical of middle-class American and in tracing the changing texture of their life Miss Suckow portrays the loss of faith and security which has followed the war. Their four children seem to be typical middle-western youngsters but the outside change and movement is reflected upon them and they drift rapidly away from their parents. Carl, the eldest and the pet of the family and the town, drifts through force of habit into marriage with a childhood sweetheart and after a few years of struggle to attain a richness and response which his wife cannot give him, he settles down to a life of intellectual stagnation and sexual frustration as Superintendent of Schools in the small neighboring town of Geneva. Dorothy, the simple, beautiful model-daughter, makes a highly successful early marriage and edges into her comfortable niche in society, promising to blossom into a typically good mother and matron. Dark, mystic, ever dissatisfied Margaret ends her wild search for freedom and beauty as the mistress of a man who refuses to give up his wife and family. Bunny, the youngest and most completely free of them all, marries a fiery Communist and completes the exodus from the Ferguson home. Their children gone and Fred's life work at the bank finished, "the folks" take their first vacation and visit Mama Ferguson's wealthy Californian sister. Their roots are in Belmond and they will not be torn free, so "the folks" return to Belmond and settle down to a serene, loving old-age.
This simple skeleton is built into a fine novel by Miss Suckow's rich direct, and maturely sympathetic style. Her prose is at times radiantly beautiful and wise, "He was aware of a sense of change pervading everything, although it wasn't a thing he could touch or locate. He couldn't say how or when it had happened, but the old simple surety seemed to be gone. The church of his fathers was empty. There was something beyond him, some force that he was only blindly aware of working steathily and bringing a right-about-face. His own children were allied with that force. He wasn't sure of anything. Only that he was here again--back home.