Thursday, July 7, 2016
All Waiting Is Long
by Barbara J. Taylor
Akashic Books 2016
316 pages Historical Fiction
All Waiting is Long is a sequel to Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, a novel by Barbara Taylor published two years ago. This novel works very well as a stand-alone, and I don't believe that I missed anything by not reading Sing in the Morning.
Set in 1930s Scranton PA, Lily Morgan gets pregnant when she is 16-years-old. In order to protect her from a lifetime of disgrace, she is sent to the Good Shepherd Infant Asylum in Philadelphia, and her older sister Violet is sent along to watch over her until the baby is born and put up for adoption. The Morgans are a Protestant family from Scranton, and the infant asylum is run by a group of benevolent nuns. Lily is very young and immature and doesn't understand the full impact of her situation. Violet, on the other hand, is hiding the pregnancy from her boyfriend Stanley, a law student. Everything is hush-hush, of course. Everyone at home thinks that the girls are helping their aunt move to Buffalo. Violet ends up volunteering at the home, helping out with the babies until they are adopted, which seems to happen quite regularly and easily. Enter the evil Dr. Peters, the physician who is called to the asylum when there is a difficult birth. Dr. Peters is committed to a popular concept of the time called eugenics, and he is sterilizing these wayward girls without them (or the nuns) knowing it.
The first half of the novel concerns Lily and Violet and the birth of the Lily's baby girl. At the end of the first section, Violet makes a rash decision that affects the rest of her life as well as Lily's. The second section moves ahead five years back to Scranton, when both young women are married, and the community and family ties propel the narrative to a startling climax. The plot includes commentary on striking coal miners, prostitutes, mobsters, prohibition, ladies' societies, Catholic-Protestant clashes, and all the other aspects of life in the 1930s. The plot twists and turns and takes us with it. Everything is feasible and historically accurate. The colorful characters add to the credibility of the narrative, and each character's circumstances is very sympathetically handled. After Lily's baby is born, All Waiting is Long very rapidly becomes a page turner.
Although I was born in the 1940s, many of the societal norms illustrated in All Waiting is Long were still firmly in place in my childhood. I remember the daughter of my dad's secretary getting married under suspicious circumstances. It was the talk of the town because she was wearing a scandalous white wedding dress. I remember the school board election in which my dad ran against a Catholic. We sat in the car outside the school polling place watching carloads of nuns coming to vote for the Catholic against my father. I remember a school friend whose father was abusive and the struggle the mother had to leave him. I remember powerful labor unions causing problems for my father's factory. All of these were incisive influences in my childhood.
Eugenics was something that I knew little about until I read All Waiting is Long. The Eugenics movement believed that through selective mating and sterilization, the dominant groups in the population could be preserved and improved. The movement began in the 1880s, and its proponents believed that through selective breeding, the human species could direct its own evolution. Strict immigration, anti-miscegenation, and forced sterilization were among the ideas supported by the eugenics movement. In the novel, Dr. Peters believed that the poor unfortunate women at the Good Shepherd Infant Asylum should be sterilized so that more unfortunate babies wouldn't be brought into the world. The eugenics movement petered out during World War II, when eugenics became a German weapon of war.
Taylor very skillfully blends all the many forces determining life in the 1930s into a novel of tremendous strength and compulsive readability. I highly recommend it, and I believe that it would be a good choice for a book group. Finally, I love the idea that Barbara Taylor lives in Scranton, the setting for All Waiting is Long, and that she is a high school English teacher. Power to the teachers among us.
Barbara J. Taylor's website