MY HOME IS FAR AWAY is Dawn Powell’s “serious” novel. That is it does not have the screwball satiric tone of her other books mostly set in the hustle bustle of post WWII advertising age New York such as ANGELS ON TOAST which I reviewed here http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2009/03/angels-on-toast-by-dawn-powell.html and THE LOCUST HAVE NO KING which I reviewed here http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2009/06/locust-have-no-king-by-dawn-powell.html .
That isn’t because she writes in a more serious way. There is a tone to the recollections of her childhood and young teenage years that is not bitter or angry despite the hardscrabble life she had. Rather, she views it all as a big adventure and her descriptions are not tainted by negative feelings.
Because make no mistake, while some of the actual details are not necessarily true (For example when the middle sister based on a young Dawn Powell runs away, she actually stayed with an aunt not strangers as the book tells), MY HOME is largely based on Powell’s early years in Ohio. The death of her mother, her father’s lack of responsibility and remarriage to a cruel, abusive stepmother, the relationships with her other two sisters are all events out of Powell’s life.
Regardless, this is an excellent novel. It is clear from the detailed, painstaking descriptions and the methodical timeline discussions of what is occurring in specific years, at specific times that this based on real life experience but it is also a powerful story with wonderfully fleshed out, original, eccentric characters (the kind we all have in our lives and characters each with their own quirks and/or dysfunctions). This is a narrative of a tough childhood that ranks with MY CHILDHOOD by Maxim Gorky in terms of power.
The cruel stepmother scenes in particular are really powerful. Of course, it might mean more to me because my stepfather was an evil person and a similar type of personality and I could relate. However, I do think Powell invests this character with full-on foulness that anyone could relate to.
The fact that someone like Powell I associate with a different kind of writing can produce something like this makes me respect her even more. On my future reading list are more of her books –THE WICKED PAVILION and THE GOLDEN SPUR.