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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reader's Diary #1323- Marina Endicott: The Little Shadows

There was a recent Saturday Night Live sketch in which Kyle Mooney plays an actor portraying Clark (of Lewis and Clark). He introduces himself as "soldier, explorer, politician, and boo, slave owner" to which Cecily Strong, playing his co-actor, remarks to their audience, "but remember, guys, nobody knew it was bad back then."

I love that line for its ridiculousness and the way it calls out the way historical racism is often brushed aside. Of course there were plenty of people back then, black of course, but white too, who knew exactly how wrong it was.

One of the things I appreciated the most about Marina Endicott's The Little Shadows is how deftly she deals with issues of the past (the way women were treated, for example). They are not viewed under the values of a 21st century lens, but nor are they ignored or brushed off like Cecily Strong suggested. In some ways it reminded me of Little Women, only way more honest, as if Louisa May Alcott had been free to write about topics like sex and inequality.

Still, despite skillfully dealing with a large number of heavy issues, I cannot say I was ever really engaged with the story.

I wrestled with this a lot, at times pinning the blame on myself, at times on Endicott. I read this book very slowly, having started it a few months back. I could not really connect with any of the characters and there never seemed to be an overarching plot. But, I thought, maybe I was just reading it too slowly, forgetting in the meantime. On the other hand, had the story been more compelling, perhaps I would have read it more quickly. Surprising really that a book about vaudeville wouldn't be thoroughly fascinating. I also found it difficult to tell the three focal sisters, or even their mother, apart. Again, providing Endicott with a bit of an out, they were a family of women in vaudeville, it is not unlikely that they would share many personality traits. Indeed, when they finally got some time apart from one another, I did find them more diverse and compelling. Unfortunately this didn't happen until the final quarter of the book.

Ultimately I'm glad I stuck with it as it did get more interesting as time went on, I enjoyed the exploration of some themes, and felt I learned a bit. Still, it was a bit of a slog early on.


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