Michelle Hoover’s debut novel is a haunting, beautifully told story that explores the hardships of the Great Depression by focusing on two families—neighbors who are in many ways complete opposites of one another. The Quickening unfolds gradually, beginning in 1913, and is told in alternating chapters by the family matriarchs, Enidina (Eddie) Current and Mary Morrow.

Eddie is a large, down-to-earth woman who throws herself into even the dirtiest farm jobs and is devoted to her hard-working husband Frank, with whom she moved to a farm “a day’s wagon ride” away from the family farm where she grew up. The Morrow family, she says, were “a worry to ours from day one.” Mary Morrow, raised in a city, distances herself from the rigors of farm work, preferring to play the piano and attend services at the nearby chapel. Different as they are, the two women bond, if only to have another voice to help stave off their isolation.

Eddie suffers two miscarriages, and when she next feels a quickening, she doesn’t want to admit it, afraid she will lose another baby. But she gives birth to twins, Donny and Adaline, whose lives become inextricably tied to Mary’s youngest boy, Kyle. As the twins grow, the farms suffer their worst years, with alternating drought and floods, a drop in crop prices and the raising of mortgages caused by the Depression. Misfortune drives a wedge between the families, culminating in a tragedy that severs the neighborly ties for good.

Hoover writes with such emotional clarity about these two women, their fierce maternal instincts and their determination to survive in spite of impossible hardships that the reader can almost feel their presence. Hoover is the granddaughter of four generations-old farming families, so perhaps this empathy is in her genes, resulting in a captivating and heartfelt first novel.

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