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Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

Joy in the Morning (1963)

by Betty Smith

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Books with exciting plots are well and good, but these quieter books about normal people living ordinary lives tend to mean more to me. What a refreshing, lovely book. ( )
  AngelClaw | Apr 5, 2018 |
Betty Smith's 1963 novel, JOY IN THE MORNING, is a book I've come back to at least three times, having first read it in college nearly fifty years ago. Set in the years 1928-29 on the campus of an unnamed Midwestern university, it is the story of young newlywed Brooklyn-ites Carl (20) and Annie (McGairy) Brown (18). Carl is a law student and Annie is, well, she's Annie, who had to leave school at 14 to help support her mother and two younger brothers. But Annie loves to read and to learn, and she harbors a dream of being a writer, and manages to finagle her way into auditing a couple of writing classes. Pregnancy intervenes, and, with no help from parents on either side, Carl and Annie struggle mightily to make ends meet, with both taking whatever work they can find.

Yes, it's a very sweet story, a love story, which makes it sound like it should probably be written off as chick-lit. But that would be a big mistake, because JOY is a classic of its kind of literature, and Smith was an enormously talented writer, known and remembered primarily for her classic novel, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. In all, Smith wrote only four novels, her first love being play writing, although I'm not sure any of her plays have survived her. (She died in 1972 at the age of 75.) And yes, I have read all four of her novels, but JOY remains my particular favorite.

Here's why. The first time I read the book, I was, like Carl and Annie, newly married and still in college. And, again like Carl and Annie, our first son was born a little over a year later. And, like Carl and Annie, my wife and I were both so brand new to all of it - married life, being grownups, trying to pay tuition and all the other bills, that first pregnancy and baby. We look back on those times now and wonder how the hell we got through it all, how we managed to "make do," as our parents used to say during the Great Depression. Books like JOY IN THE MORNING helped, certainly. Because we both read it, and may have even cried a little over it. It's that kind of book. We could relate. And I could relate as much to Annie as to Carl, maybe even more, because of lines like this, describing Annie's first visit to the university library -

"She went from room to room, floor to floor, stack to stack, reveling in books, books, books. She loved books. She loved them with all her senses and her intellect. The way they smelled and looked; the way they felt in her hands; the way the pages seemed to murmur as she turned them. Everything there is in the world, she thought, is in books."

But Annie feared she'd never fit in at the university - "She knew she didn't belong. She felt that she never would belong." When I re-read this section I was reminded of another book I'd read - and relished - several years back, a memoir by Bette Lynch Husted, called LESSONS FROM THE BORDERLANDS, about being poor and trying to 'belong' in a similar way in an academic setting.

JOY is such a rich book about being young and in love, about quarreling, about sex and birth control, childbirth, making friends - and losing them. About accepting people who are 'different' - a homosexual florist Annie befriends, a widowed grocer, a butcher's caught wife in a common-law marriage with two small children, and more. Carl's the one in college, but Annie seems to be learning a lot more. And Carl can be something of a tyrant, a bully and a prick at times. I found myself not liking him very much this time through the book, and suddenly realized that I was a lot like him at that age. We really do live and learn - change, evolve.

A note about Betty Smith: most of her books were indeed highly autobiographical. The unnamed university and town here are based upon Michigan and Ann Arbor, and Smith did indeed marry young, with very little education. Years later, after her children were older, she earned a degree at U of M. And she divorced her first husband, George Smith, and remarried, to Joseph Jones. From Smith to Jones. And lived most of her life in Chapel Hill, NC, another college town. My wife and I spent an overnight in Chapel Hill about 30 years ago. Our hotel was just across the street from a large bookstore. But when I inquired about books by Betty Smith, the clerk seemed not to even know who she was, and none of her books were in stock. How disappointed I was, and sad. But I feel better now knowing that JOY IN THE MORNING is back in print again. I still have my battered 1964 Bantam paperback edition.

I'm so glad I took the time to read this book again. Maybe I'll coax my wife to try it again too. Then we can both recall again those long ago college days of our own "joy in the morning." My highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | May 12, 2017 |
A delightful story of young love, facing life's hardships. The author creates people as they are, dialog as it often is, and thoughts as they exist in our minds. This is real life, with that sweet aftertaste that we often experience. Highly recommended. ( )
  fuzzi | Jun 26, 2016 |
I loved this book almost as much as "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". It was every bit as absorbing and hard to put down - but I was less attached to the characters, I think because it took place over the course of a year instead of several years, and there wasn't as much history. It was a book that was very much stuck in one moment. Still, I loved all of the background characters and the story in general was sweet. ( )
  GraceZ | Sep 6, 2014 |
I read this several times over the space of a couple of summers. I remember liking it a lot, but not enough to dig out and re-read. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
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Weeping may endure for a night
but joy cometh in the morning.

--Psalm 30:5
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It was an out-of-date town hall in an up-to-date progressive college town in a midwestern state.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060956860, Paperback)

In Brooklyn, New York, in 1927, Carl Brown and Annie McGairy meet and fall in love. Though only eighteen, Annie travels alone to the Midwestern university where Carl is studying law to marry him. Little did they know how difficult their first year of marriage would be, in a faraway place with little money and few friends. But Carl and Annie come to realize that the struggles and uncertainty of poverty and hardship can be overcome by the strength of a loving, loyal relationship. An unsentimental yet uplifting story, Joy in the Morning is a timeless and radiant novel of marriage and young love.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:12 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The story of a young couple from Brooklyn who marry young, have little money, and face bitter parental opposition, but are determined to make something of their life together. "In Brooklyn, New York, in 1927, Carl Brown and Annie McGairy meet and fall in love. Though only eighteen, Annie travels alone to the Midwestern university where Carl is studying law to marry him. Little did they know how difficult their first year of marriage would be, in a faraway place with little money and few friends. But Carl and Annie come to realize that their greatest sources of strength, loyalty, and love, will help them make it through."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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