Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hi, my name is Sobig.

Hi, Sobig. Well, actually his name is Dirk, but during childhood was nicknamed Sobig, which came from the repeated nonsense of adults asking the baby in a cheesy voice, "How big is the baby?!" and replying "Soooo big" complete with arm motions. This is the first thing that should clue you in to how awesome Edna Ferber is: she makes fun of our silly baby talking, while not making fun of the endearing sentiments people feel about children, especially your own. This all happens in the first two pages of So Big, and it only gets better from there.

I read my first Ferber a few years ago, Cimarron. Like that book, So Big features a strong heroine who deals with farming the land, eventually losing her husband, raising a child, etc. But there is also so much more in this Pulitzer-winning novel, not the least of which is a story about how appreciating beauty and art can take place on a farm, or in a painter's studio.

The themes of artist life and what "success" is resonate with me (as we all know). The magic of the book is that she plants the seeds all along the way and then when we move from the High Prairie of Illinois to WWI-era Chicago, we see the result she has cultivated. If we are smart, then we reflect on our own appreciation of beauty, and how we would answer the question of when does it become "too late" to find the life of love, art, and creation that you abandoned to make a lot of money?

Selina Dejong is a success, not because she married the "right" man, made millions, or has a mansion, but because she knows that the cabbages are beautiful. Her son knows this somewhere inside him, but will his bond-trading, car-driving, pleasure-seeking rich friends outweigh the influence of artists who hang out in Paris and really know themselves?

I think the name Edna Ferber sounds so, well, old-fashioned that we unconsciously assume we have an idea of what her books must be all about. Edna Ferber was pretty bad-ass, though, from what I can tell. It was probably like being named Britney or Taylor in the 1880s, wasn't it? (note to self: discover origins of the name Edna) She eventually ended up hanging out in the Algonquin Round Table in New York, which shows that she was witty and avant-garde-like. I for one have big plans to read even more of her books, like Giant and Show Boat. She is my candidate for author-that-needs-to-be-rediscovered.

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