Lane really, really didn’t like the small town America in which she was raised, and in particular she didn’t like the lifestyle it forced upon the women living it.
The first chapter is a beautifully written indictment of the nameless Midwestern town in which the story is set. Parochial, insular, stuffy, middle-brow, Lane’s old home town is obsessed with what is proper and especially what isn’t.
The rest of the chapters are stories told by a young girl named Ernestine about other women who live there, and most of them are pretty easily identifiable as wish fulfillment on the part of the author. The old maid escaping seduction by town ne’er-do-well by her own pluck and the timely appearance of a new suitor. The hired girl forced by gossip to marry the husband when the wife dies, which ends about as well as you might expect. A wife who leaves her husband and goes on to become a couturier. The selfish old woman who lies about her daughter being fast to her daughter’s suitor so he’ll jilt her and she’ll have someone at home to take care of her. Ernestine’s “fast friend” Elsie falls for a traveling man with disastrous results. The town beauty elopes with a hayseed, and a mother sells her beautiful daughter to the highest bidder, with homicidal results.
In the last chapter, Ernestine has finally had enough (and so have we) and against the wishes of her parents leaves home for school in NYC. You don’t so much as cheer as think, “What took you so long?”
…there were two clear ways to flaunt one’s loss of modesty and virtue; one was to wear red, the other was to be seen needlessly gadding around uptown.
Makes me want to put on my reddest outfit and prance right up town. I’m certain that was exactly how she meant me to feel.
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