Small World, by Carol Deschere

April 30th, 2008

The fact that Carol Deschere Berendt, mother of John Berendt, author of the best-selling Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The City of Falling Angels, once published a novel, Small World, under her maiden name, would not in itself qualify the book for mention here.

But, as Syracure Post-Standard writer Laura T. Ryan noted two years ago in her blog, Karen DeCrow, a pioneering feminist and one-time president of the National Organization for Women, was passed along a copy back in the late 1970s. DeCrow was so moved by the book that, “… she typed up a 5-page letter and sent it to everyone she knew in the publishing world, hoping to get it re-released.” Ryan quotes from the letter:

Twelve years before publication of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963), Carol Deschere wrote a novel which could have spurred the feminist revolution, had enough women read it. In Small World, a simply written and simply plotted novel, Deschere tells us the story of a bright, educated, and cultured woman who leads the life of a middle-class housewife. Her husband is kind and generous, her children are intelligent and obedient, her home is stylish and comfortable.

Her world, however, is so small that it revolves totally around food, clothing, furniture, and an occasional outreach of interest to music, art, and literature. The novel takes place during one of the critical periods in American history: World War II had just ended, the alliances of nations in the world were dramatically shifting, capitalism as an economic system was being seriously questioned for the first time in a century, and the seeds of the Cold War period were being developed in the United States. Yet Kay Hiller, the hero of the novel, does not deal with these issues, despite the fact that she is both bright and intellectual….

… For women who dream of art, music, literature, and affairs of state there are few alternatives — lovers, suicide, or worst of all, resignation. With the broadening of the small world for women, hopefully novels about Emma (Bovary), about Kay, will become historical documents.

As Berendt himself describes the book in an interview on Barnes & Noble’s website,

The story concerns a family of four living in upstate New York. It’s charming and beautifully written. Carol Deschere, the author, happens to be my mother, and the family depicted in her novel closely resembles our own. The book sold about 2,000 copies and, although my mother never wrote another book, Small World was a life-changing experience for me, because in addition to making me enormously proud of her, it showed me for the first time how real life could be transformed into words and stories and published in a book for all to read. It also planted the first seed in my mind that I might become a writer one day.

Deschere died last year at the age of 92. Small World remains out of print–in fact, a quick search of AddAll.com located a grand total of three copies, at $48, $200, and almost $1,000, respectively. Two reviewers on Amazon remembered it fondly enough to post 5-star reviews of the book, so Karen DeCrow is not alone in hoping that this book may someday find its way to republication.

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