Naomi Kellogg lives with her parents & younger siblings in a farming community in the United States. She’s in love with Joe Copeland, a neighbour who lives & farms with his mother. Neither family approves of Naomi & Joe’s relationship so they meet secretly by a brook near Naomi’s home. When Joe is killed in a farming accident, Naomi realises that she’s pregnant. Her parents are shocked & ashamed, worried about what the community & especially the Church will think. Joe’s mother also rejects Naomi, who had imagined that both families would welcome her child as a memory of Joe & as the result of their love. With no other choice, Naomi is married to Caleb Evans, an older man who is willing to take on another man’s child as he loves Naomi in spite of her indifference to him. Caleb has taken up land in Colorado & after the wedding, they leave for a new life.
Eighteen years later, Naomi’s daughter, Brook, named after the place where she was conceived & where her mother was happiest, is a lovely young woman about to finish school. She has been strictly brought up by Caleb although Naomi is determined that her daughter won’t suffer as she did for love. Naomi has never loved Caleb & her life is bitter & full of regrets. When Brook meets Tony Ross, Naomi does everything she can to encourage the relationship, against Caleb’s wishes. Naomi encourages Brook to go to a dance with Tony while Caleb is away, even though he had forbidden her to go.
Brook stood there, doubtful; indeed, disapproving. She herself might defy her father, deceive him, girls did that at times – then were sorry for it, of course; but for her mother to do it for her, in this matter-of-course way, this was a state of things in which she did not know how to move … Why was Brook not more grateful to her mother? She herself wondered why. Oh, she would go, all right, and yet she was on Father’s side. It wasn’t right to deceive him like that. Well, she would never do it again.
Tony’s family is Catholic, he has Italian & Native American blood & Caleb disapproves of him & his family. Naomi tells Brook about her own past & about her love for Joe but, instead of bringing mother & daughter closer together, Brook is upset & embarrassed. She loves Caleb & considers him to be her father & she begins to shut Naomi out of her life. Naomi conspires with Tony in his pursuit of Brook, even though Brook feels compelled to obey her father & refuses to see him.
Here was the hour when she was on the one side or the other. The danger she had braved for herself – was she brave enough to encounter it for her child? Did she believe enough? “Anything that life can do to you is better than not having lived.” She spoke it as her creed. But she could no longer look into the large darkness. She went into the house to wait for her little girl to come home.
When Brook discovers her mother’s plan, she rejects Naomi completely, turning her back on her mother’s belief in the overriding importance of the emotional life.
Years later, Brook is living in France, a widow with a son she has named Evans. She was never reconciled with Naomi but now, in her late thirties, she finally begins to understand her mother & to regret her rejection. Brook is about to discover what her mother meant when she encouraged her to give in to love.
Why had there not been ease between her and her mother? From the very first, as far back as she could remember, she had known that here was a love that would do anything in the world for her – die for her, suffer, do wrong for her. She had soon come to know that her mother did not exist for herself, but existed for Brook. Why should this, of all things, exasperate one? Why was it so hard for her to show love in response to the completeness of this love? In any kind of emotional moment why would she be constrained, awkward, and finally resentful?
Brook Evans is a wonderful story about passionate love, for a lover & for a child. Naomi’s passion for Joe defines her whole life, poisoning any relationship she might have had with Caleb & ultimately making her life one of regrets & thwarted plans. Naomi never had a chance to have a real life with Joe & so she treasures her memories, a tattered photograph her only tangible memento – apart from Brook. Caleb is a good man who probably thought that once Naomi was away from her family & her memories she would forget Joe & learn to love him. Naomi never gives him a chance, she’s always repulsed by him, by his high, squeaky voice & his rigid religious beliefs. Brook has always been aware of something odd in her parents relationship but it isn’t until she discovers that Caleb isn’t really her father that she thinks she understands. Her love for Caleb is intensified & she goes out of her way to show him that she is his daughter in every way that matters, rejecting her mother’s creed, “Anything that life can do to you is better than not having lived.”.
I first read Brook Evans over 10 years ago when it was reprinted by Persephone Books. As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I want to reread some of those early Persephones from my pre-blogging days & I so much enjoyed reading Brook Evans again. Susan Glaspell’s Fidelity was one of the very first Persephones I read & I thought it was an exceptional novel. I’ve read it several times since then but I’d never revisited Brook Evans. I’m so glad I did.