Ruth Suckow, Iowa novelist, recorded the lives of people on the farms anf in the small towns of Iowa in the 1920s and 1930s. Her best known book is The Folks.
The John Wood Case is her last novel, published in 1959, a year before she died. Set in the early years of the 20th century, it shows us the reactions of middle class, church-going folks in a small Iowa town to a serious misdeed by one of their own. The story is not really about John Wood – who steals from the employer who trusts him – but about those around him who must address the financial and psychological consequences.
The story opens slowly and shifts from character to character, as Suckow introduces each, one by one.
The minister stood a little aside during the singing, not wanting to look at Mae too obviously – thinking also of his Sunday-school lesson, which dealt today with the Book of Job, with which he himself had had much trouble when he was the age of the boys in his class. He was not afraid of sharp questioning, believed in giving his Sunday-school class his “best thinking,” and could not have answered in the rigid and sonorous stereotypes with which his father and grandfather had often silenced him. Yet he had been raised in the iron grip of those stereotypes and could not help feeling himself to be a sinner even though he did not believe that he was sinning when he spoke the truth as he saw it, quite otherwise.
As my writing instructor often said, “too much telling, not enough showing.”
The person we learn the least about is John Wood himself; his is the only interior life we are never shown. The story mostly centers on Philip, the son of John Wood, about to finish high school where he has been a well-liked leader. The family is not particularly well off and his mother is a semi-invalid, but they love each other and great things are expected of Philip, not least by himself. How he and the family friends and acquaintances react was believable enough. It’s carefully constructed, but had little emotional impact on me. I found the story rather detached, partaking of some of those stereotypes that the young minister tried so hard to escape.