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The Chautauqua Girls at Home

February 27, 2017

The Chautauqua Girls at Home follows Flossy, Ruth, Marion and Eurie as they return home and attempt to live up to their new religious convictions. It’s full of the same kind of detailed soul-searching as Four Girls at Chautauqua, but it doesn’t have the first book’s neat arcs. Four Girls at Chautaqua was a very single-minded book. It had one task: to turn these four girls into Christians. This sequel has, probably, too much going on. Not that there’s anything I wanted left out—this is one of those books that’s packed with interesting things, but doesn’t give many of them enough space.

Flossy has the easiest time of it, because Flossy is so used to relying on other people’s opinions that relying on the Bible’s guidance comes naturally. But she’s also used to deferring to her family members, and they want her to do a bunch of things that she’s no longer comfortable with, like playing cards and dancing and getting engaged to this one fairly unappealing guy. So that’s an interesting conflict. My favorite Flossy thing in this book is that she gets involved with a difficult Sunday School class full of teenage boys, and makes them over pretty nicely. My least favorite is that Alden largely skips over how this happens.

Ruth is, for me, the most relatable. She’s full of good resolutions, but doesn’t really know how to carry them out, and feels pretty bad about not being able to will herself into being a better person. The most Ruth thing ever is when she goes to her pastor to ask for work and then rejects every task he offers. Ruth has, of the four, the most melodramatic life, going back to the bit in the first book when her conversion is prompted by a sort of accidental poisoning incident. In this book, her engagement ends tragically and her father has an entertainingly improbably secret that will change her life.

I was going to say that Marion’s story was the most coherent and satisfying, but then I remembered that Alden totally dropped the ball re: Marion’s teacher friend who’s weirded out by Marion’s new scruples. I still want more about that. But Marion gets to do other fun stuff, like make friends with a student who happens to be the pastor’s daughter, and throw herself into Sunday School work, and have spiritually and intellectually stimulating conversations with the pastor. You can see where this is going, right?

Eurie kind of gets shafted. Like, you get one day with her dealing with minor household disasters, and a few bits and pieces about how her brother is nice, and maybe he’s going to convert, and maybe he’s not? And then suddenly she’s romantically involved with someone you’ve never seen her interact with, and she’s been nursing her mom but you didn’t know her mom was sick? I feel like Alden got bored of Eurie and maybe I would have gotten bored of her too, but I never got that chance.

That’s a lot of stuff to cover in one novel of average length, and Alden struggles with it. There are times when it seems intentional—I know I’m not entitled to the characters’ engagement scenes, but getting 0 of 3 is a little unfair—and times when it doesn’t, and times (lots of times. all the times.) when it seems like giving each of the girls their own post-Chautauqua book would have made more sense. But you know what? I enjoyed what there was, and Alden left me wanting more.

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