My rating: 7.5/10
This novel bookends Mother Mason; both are episodic individual and family portraits; I read them back to back and there were decided similarities of style and content, though each book has enough variation to keep things fresh.
I rated Mother Mason higher; though The Cutters is a charming read as well. However, in this novel, the morals in the little stories within are laid on with a much broader brush.
Motherhood, Home, Family – yes – we understand their importance, dear author, to the fabric of a happy nation, but the insistence that these are the only things which bring fulfillment to a womanly heart jars a bit with our modern-day emancipated female reality!
A tiny bit preachy, and very much a period piece; most obvious perhaps in the chapter on alternative ways of child discipline which ends with the family’s mother soundly thrashing her two naughty sons, with the author’s blatant assumption that this will meet with her readers’ full approval!
This novel depicts a short period in the life of the Cutter family of the fictional small town of Meadows in an unspecified mid-western U.S. state. Father Ed, a successful lawyer; Nell, a busy hausfrau; 12-year-old Josephine; Craig and Nicolas, 7 and 9; baby Leonard; and mild matriarch Grandma Cutter make up the seven points of the Cutter family star.
The time is the early years of the 1920s; the shadows of the coming Depression are faint but ominously lurking. The Cutters struggle financially, and much of Nell’s part of the narrative is driven by her wistful yearnings for things which she can’t quite afford. Her husband teases her with a running joke about champagne tastes on a beer budget; Nell inwardly bristles while admitting to herself that this is indeed one of her personal Waterloos.
The incidents which make up the book are mild and domestically based for the most part. A wealthy client and his wife come to stay for a few days, throwing the Cutter household into turmoil top to bottom; The Woman’s Club invites a speaker on “Perfect Parenthood, or Trained Motherhood”, whose ideas Nell tries to emulate with less than stellar success; a decision to take a family “dream vacation” reveals some surprising preferences; Josephine’s schoolgirl crush disrupts her young world; Nell’s ambitions for a newer, better, bigger house look like they will finally be realized; Grandma Cutter looks forward to a reunion with all of her far-flung sons; Nell enters a contest to try to win some “easy money”.
Likeable characters; relatable situations, a lot of humour and some very wise words coming from unexpected quarters – Aldrich is truly in fine form here. She bobbles a bit with the last chapter, which jumps ahead several years to the time of Josephine’s wedding, and hurriedly fills us in on how everyone else is turning out. Aldrich didn’t need to do that; she could have left us in the here and now, and it would have been just fine, but I suspect she couldn’t quite resist tidying things up.
Though not quite up to its predecessor, Mother Mason, The Cutters is an ideal nostalgic comfort read. I liked it a lot.