On a random grab, I picked up the book The Sweetheart Season by Karen Joy Fowler at the library last week. Set in 1947 middle America, you spend a season with the Sweetwheat Sweethearts. They are a baseball team made up of young women working in the local breakfast cereal factory test kitchen.
With the town’s male population significantly depleted by the war efforts abroad, many of the girls see the travel the team provides as their best means for finding a husband. And, in 1947 America that was, once again, to be a woman’s only job.
The cast of characters in the book definitely make up for the lack of baseball. The book teases the team early on but spends a lot of time getting them on the field. As a baseball lover I wanted this to be my written version of A League Of Their Own but 170 pages in, I had to give in to the fact that there was going to be more to this book than baseball. There was more, especially for those interested in learning what post-war America looked like.
The book takes you through the POW camps as well as the ethnic clashes of the time. Most importantly, it addresses the struggles of the working woman following the end of an era.
These girls were in the prime of their lives at a time when they had been asked to step up and take their place in the workforce. While the men were off fighting their labor was needed. It was their patriotic duty. 1950s American values would soon reverse that course however, claiming it was now their duty to step aside and give those jobs to returning soldiers. That left the women of this era with a taste of independence but an expectation to become domesticated once more.
The author uses a narrative voice to lead into and out of the story itself. In my opinion, that is a mistake. The narrator is the adult child of one of the factory women and she retells the story from her 19-year old mother’s point of view. The story would have self-sustained just as well with a one-page prologue and epilogue allowing the reader more time to remain with this cast of delightful characters.
That aside, I have to admit that, as a person who never spent any time on an all women’s team I found the book more interesting than expected. I’m not one for strong feminine storylines – ideals of expected gender roles a woman should embody - but this book and these characters, as well as the men they surrounded themselves with, allowed me to stay vested in their lives. Given that they were, at best, teenaged girls in the height of hormonal control, that is certainly a testament to the writing.
If you are a fellow foodie and have an affection for baseball, history and women, then this book is a great escape into a place and time you might otherwise never have been able to imagine. The historical references are great. I actually learned a baseball factoid I had not known before, and there are definitely some quotable moments that still apply to life as we know it today.