Picks and Pans Review: Herbs and Apples

by Helen Hooven Santmyer

Santmyer’s…And Ladies of the Club won a spot on the 1984 best-seller lists and a flurry of media attention for its then 88-year-old author. Herbs and Apples, reissued in the wake of that triumph, was originally published—and generally ignored—when Santmyer was in her 20s. Though it’s mercifully shorter than the 1,176-page Ladies and obviously dated, this semiautobiographical first novel has much in common with its successor. Both include scrupulously observed, often beautifully vivid accounts of life in small town Ohio around the turn of the century. Both are something of a chore to get through. Herbs and Apples’ heroine is Derrick Thornton, a strong-willed tomboy who “knows” from a very young age that she will be a Great Writer. She retains her ambition through adolescence (when most of her friends are thinking only about boys), through college (when she decides she must never marry if she is to accomplish anything) and through a secretarial job in New York. In 1925 this tale of a woman’s ambitions may have been exploring new territory; 60 years later, its themes are too well-worn to hold the same interest. Santmyer, who was considered a moderate feminist in her day, now appears too often narrow-minded in her assessments of the female psyche. “Woman can’t fix her mind on abstractions as a man can—Fame and Glory and Art,” says Derrick, “because her mind is intent always on the people she cares about and wants to please.” (Harper & Row, $16.95)

Related Articles