Sunday, 29 March 2015

Dress Down Sunday: Some Luck by Jane Smiley


published 2014


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES


Some Luck
 
[section set in 1948]

In seven years, she had become the most sophisticated woman Frank had ever known, and he was a little intimidated; even the women he’d dated in Washington, including Judy, were frumpy by comparison. But she did it so naturally and quickly that he was fascinated rather than put off by it.

Girdle, stockings, slip, blouse, skirt, jacket, hat, hairpins, makeup, heels, coat, corsage, gloves: she passed through the process automatically, usually talking, and then she was ready to go, and off they went. This led him to believe that she would pass through the complementary removal process as easily, though she hadn’t done that yet with him. It was amusing to think about, and exciting too…
 

observations: Frank is the eldest of the next generation in this family saga – see this entry for more about the book and the unusual setup of one chapter for every year between 1920 and 1953. He has just met up with a girlfriend from before the war: when they announce they are to be married, his mother Rosanna ‘seemed more suspicious than any of the other parents’ – the reader knows why, though Frank doesn’t.

Frank – a sniper during WW2, his adventures described in some detail – has the most interesting post-war life of any of the family, and is the only character who seems completely unfamiliar, he is totally unlike the normal range of characters in books, which is a rare achievement, the reader doesn’t often think that.

Enough people leave Iowa to add interest in these years – as Rosanna thinks, ‘At first you thought of people like Eloise and Frank and Lillian as runaways, and then, after a bit, you knew they were really scouts.’ Frank has a job going through papers recovered from Germany after Hitler’s downfall – something that must have happened, but I’m sure hasn’t occurred to most of us. He is also (very unexpectedly) lured into a nifty bit of counter-espionage by his brother-in-law, Lillian’s husband. Things are really perking up in the plot.

Smiley is very good at describing clothes, and a world where in the 30s and 40s ‘Mama and Granny Elizabeth had sewn Lilian just the outfits she wanted [for high school], ones she’d seen in a magazine’, and there is some discussion of what bolts of material are available at the general store.

Later an upandcoming acquaintance has a wife in a ‘mouton’ coat – apparently a 1950s phrase for sheepskin cut and dyed to resemble beaver fur or sealskin.

Some Luck DD 2
 
This mouton coat is a lot more showy, designed to look like a more exotic animal.
 
The top picture is from the Clover vintage tumblr.













18 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more, Moira, about new and different kinds of characters. It's rare that you 'meet' them. I think one reason is that it's tricky to create them without making the character seem bizarre or even impossible. And I like the snippet you've chosen. There are people like that, who can look stylish and sophisticated and make it all look easy. I am not one of them so I admire it in those who are.

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    1. Margot, me too - wouldn't it be nice to be that stylish? And yes, character creation must be one of the hardest things to do.

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  2. I remember encountering mouton in 8th grade, when I read I NEVER LOVED YOUR MIND, by Paul Zindel. I could NOT figure out what it was, and either I didn't think to look it up or the dictionary wasn't satisfactory (it was 1980, so no Google; the book was written in the late 60s or early 70s). I think I must have somehow picked up on the idea of sheep, though, because I have always pictured it as woolly and synthetic, like Sherpa. :-)

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    1. Molly, you are a person after my own heart. the reading of my younger days was full of terms and words that I didn't understand, and I was always teased by the gaps in my knowledge. Google might have been invented for me, with the joy of being able to find a meaning instantly.

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  3. Fascinating though this does sound, from your previous post, to be a rather odd book in some ways - but the structure is certainly appealing. Which reminds, sideways, that it's been ages since I read anything by Anne Tyler!

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    1. Well if you like Anne Tyler, I think you would like this. I read all of Tyler up to a certain point, and then stopped, but keep thinking I should pick her up again.

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  4. "Frank – a sniper during WW2...-...is the only character who seems completely unfamiliar"

    Snipers have often been described - I don't know how accurately - as having strange and often frightening personalities.

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    1. It makes sense doesn't it? Anyway, a good creation on Jane Smiley's part.

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  5. Still sounds interesting, but until I branch out more into straight fiction, I will pass it by. Lovely images.

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    1. Thank you! She is very good on her clothes descriptions. I think you have to be in a particular mindset to enjoy this book.

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  6. I've read a few books by Jane Smiley and read her blog for awhile, just couldn't find the time to keep it up.

    Yes, I would love to be chicly dressed every time I go somewhere, but I think I'd like to be Essie Davis' clone with the clothes she wears in Phrynne Fisher's mysteries. Such lovely clothes in Tuesday night's episode, stark black-and-white outfits, not the usual, great hats.

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    1. Too many writers, too many books Kathy - we have to make choices. I still haven't seen the Phrynne Fisher mysteries, but the clothes I hear about are drawing me in....

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  7. I'd just get the cd of the Australian TV series. Then one can see the fashions. The clothing designers are just artists with this show. And Essie Davis is incredible.

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