I follow a blog called Letters from a Hill Farm, and Nan, the author, writes a lot about the books she reads. Our tastes are fairly similar—we both love Miss Read—and when Nan suggests a book, I take note. Recently she recommended Mrs. Appleyard’s Year by Louise Andrews Kent, and as the title suggests, the book follows Mrs. Appleyard through the seasons—in Massachusetts and on a farm in Vermont. I love books that do this, and immediately requested it through interlibrary loan, not paying much attention to when the book was written or anything else about it.
This inattention, along with the book’s unique voice, led to some merry confusion. In short, I thought I was reading a novel. Published in 1941, the book begins in January, and lists some of Mrs. Appleyard’s faults—impulsively buying antiques, “a fondness for looking up things in the dictionary during meals,” and telling the same story over and over. But Mrs. Appleyard is philosophical about her faults. “Since she has had most of her defects for over half a century, she is well acquainted with them. Some of them, indeed, have become enjoyable simply because she has had them so long.”
With nary a plot in sight, next comes February, where Mrs. Appleyard notes she likes the month’s “uncertain temper.” The month brings illnesses that give the young Appleyards time to make homemade Valentines. In February, it is Mrs. Appleyard’s turn to host the Pinball and Scissors club. For this event, so much food is prepared that Mr. Appleyard compares the leftovers to the seven years of plenty in Biblical Egypt. Fortunately, Mr. Appleyard likes leftovers.
By now, I think I’ve made it quite clear that the book meanders, and this is true not only for the months but for time as well. Mrs. Appleyard’s Year moves between the present, when Mrs. Appleyard is in her fifties, and back to when her children were young. This book is so gently paced that it makes a Miss Read novel seem like a John le Carré story.
I almost gave up on Mrs. Appleyard’s Year, but then I came to March and “No matter how often she encounters this month, she doesn’t think she’ll live through it. Sometimes she doesn’t care whether she does.” And I was hooked. Anybody who felt that way about March—surely the longest and dreariest month of the year—deserved more of my time.
I also decided to do a little research about this book, and I discovered that Mrs. Appleyard’s Year really isn’t a novel at all. It’s more like a memoir, or semi-autobiographical fiction, told in third person and written in a wry, humorous tone that reminded me of James Thurber. Some of Kent’s descriptions were so funny that I laughed out loud, and when I read to Clif the episode of the revolving door at Christmas time, he laughed out loud, too.
I also found out that Kent’s pen name was Mrs. Appleyard, and she wrote cookbooks and food pieces for Vermont Life. Through interlibrary loan, I’ve already requested The Summer Kitchen. (Whatever would I do without interlibrary loan?)
Mrs. Appleyard’s Year is not great literature. There is no sex, violence, alcoholism, abuse, or dysfunction. The book is gentle and funny, yet well written and wise in its own way. While I certainly wouldn’t want to turn my back on darker literature—we need writers who examine humanity’s shadow side—I do wish there were contemporary writers like Louise Andrews Kent.
Readers, if you know of any, then please let me know.