LIFE CHANGES AS WINTER TURNS TO SPRING
A Portrait of a Chair is a portrait of life in Americas Heartland in the 1980s
Set during March and April of 1983, this thoughtful novel portrays relationships among women in Elm Grove, Nebraska, a small Midwestern town. Harriet is adjusting to her new career as an antiques dealer, and to living alone after the death of her husband. Rachel, a young painter, is making similar life changes after a divorce. These are women to cheer for.
By contrast, there are the staunch and judgmental women of Elm Grove society who are suspicious of any kinds of change. They remember that Rachel once stole from a store when she was a child. They notice when Harriet has dinner with a lifelong friend named Len in a nearby town. Mabel, the main gossip, browses and snoops through Harriets store, her ears wide open for dirt. Her innuendos cause a painful rift in the fresh new friendship between Harriet and Rachel, until good sense prevails. Author Marie Krohn portrays small-town pettiness and backstabbing, but those qualities are balanced by the concern and generosity that most of the citizens feel for one another.
Portrait of a Chair is a quiet novel, in keeping with Harriets favorite authors, Jane Austen and Willa Cather. But like Austen and Cather, Marie Krohn has homed in on important issues in small-town life. This novel shows the value of small businesses on Main Street, a part of American culture that is increasingly in danger. The love of antiques and the importance of the past are both themes in the story, and the interior of Harriets store is described in loving detail.
The atmosphere of the small Midwestern city is also on display, from Arlenes Café (the town gossip mill), to the Carnegie Library, to the historic courthouse, and of course to the church. Weather is also a recurrent theme. It is significant that Rachel first walks into Harriet's store and into the novel out of a windy, rainy day; just as it is significant that Mabel leaves the novel by taking a spill on the rain-slick steps of the church. The days are warmer as the novel draws to a close, and people become warmer to each other as well.
Marie Krohn lives and writes in Neligh, Nebraska. She is a former correspondent for the Norfolk Daily News and is a speaker with the Nebraska Humanities Council. She is the author of Louise Pound: The 19th Century Iconoclast Who Forever Changed Americas Views About Women, Academics and Sports, published by American Legacy Historical Press; and her articles and stories have appeared in Calyx, Storyteller, Rockford Review, Nebraska Life, and elsewhere.