…And Ladies of the Club

Santmyer, Helen Hooven. …And Ladies of the Club. New York: Berkley Books, 1985.

After 1,433 pages what exactly did Santmyer have to say? …because I have to confess, I didn’t finish it! …And Ladies of the Club is a sweeping, multi-generation saga that spans 64 years in a small town in Ohio. It begins when two college girls are invited to join a literary “club” to study and discuss influential authors of the day. The two girls take their invitation to membership very seriously and act accordingly. After all, their group consists of a mix of women with varying marital and political statuses. For example, Anne is chosen to go first. She studies the poetry of Browning to present a critique to the group and is chastised for being immature in her thinking. However as the group grows it is these different stages of life and opinion that sets the stage for Santmyer to paint the bigger picture – the trials and tribulations of life in a small town immediately following the Civil War. This is a time when men snickered at the silly, “harmless” interests of their wives. A time when health and reputation could deteriorate with a single, innocent event.
I will admit, this was a tedious book to read. In order to finish it within the prescribed 30 days of June I had to allocate 50 pages a day. I think that would have been realistic and maybe even fun had the main characters been more reined in and the story, well…more interesting. Any book that takes 50 years to write is going to have its share of inconsistencies. …And Ladies of the Club was no exception. Sometimes the plot dragged on minute by minute in great detail. Other times a whole year is covered in less than a blase chapter. My biggest complaint Santmyer spent more time (considerable more time) painstakingly recreating the era in which the characters lived than on personality development. That is to say, no one character was developed fully enough for me to have an understanding of, never mind much less like! There were so many characters (spanning several generations) that I couldn’t keep them straight. In a nutshell, …And Ladies of the Club uses a literary society to focus mainly on the political, social, and economic recovery of post Civil War Waynesboro, Ohio.

Best line: “If she could only reach Anne before the meeting – it would be dreadful to sit all afternoon with good news locked in your bosom” (p 58).

Author Fact: Santmyer was in a nursing home when …And Ladies of the Club was finally finished. Many feared she wouldn’t live to see its publication. She did and at age 88 she was a literary success thanks to clever marketing and publisher pushing.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Small-Town Life” (p 202).



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