In the Hands of a Pro: Mrs. Somebody Somebody by Tracy Winn

Mrs. Somebody Somebody
BY Tracy Winn
(Random House, 2010)


From the Publisher:

“In this astonishing debut, Tracy Winn poignantly chronicles the souls who inhabit the troubled mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, playing out their struggles and hopes over the course of the twentieth century. Through a stunning variety of voices, Winn paints a deep and permeating portrait of the town and its people: a young millworker who dreams of marrying rich and becoming ‘Mrs. Somebody Somebody’; an undercover union organizer whose privileged past shapes her cause; a Korean War veteran who returns to the wife he never really got to know — and the couple’s overindulged children, who grow up to act out against their parents; a town resident who reflects on a long-lost love and the treasure he keeps close to his heart. Winn’s keen insight into class and human nature, combined with her perfect, nuanced prose, make Mrs. Somebody Somebody truly shine.”

Every once in a while I pick up a book by someone I have never heard of and find myself in skilled hands. That is the case with Tracy Winn, whose Mrs. Somebody, Somebody reveals the author’s acute eye and ear for the human condition.

Each of the ten stories in this book focuses on the mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts during the years after World War II. A character from one story often shows up in the next — or later — story, and by the end of the book the reader has a good sense of the divisions of town society. The distance between overworked mill employees and the mills’ owners and operators is explored, as are the different levels of concerns about lives and lifestyles. This book is as much a social history about the boom years as an exposition of myths about the postwar era.

Winn’s writing style combines a satisfying mixture of clean prose and lyrical imagery as she carves a route through each story with the control of a master. From the opening line, “Lucy Matsen was nobody — like all the women I worked with — until the day the baby fell,” we’re hooked. Right away we’re asking why/how/where/when that baby fell.

This book is as much a social history about the boom years as an exposition of myths about the postwar era. Winn’s writing style combines a satisfying mixture of clean prose and lyrical imagery as she carves a route through each story with the control of a master.

The title story captures an almost-universal female longing to be wanted by someone, anyone; for women to be seen and loved for who they are, despite the sometimes made-up exterior they present. Lucy Matsen is the epitome of the black sheep, a woman without obsessions about her appearance and a seeker of truth. She knows what is needed in the way of change and tries to implement progress in the mills but finds herself butting heads with the others. The story works as a comment on the pressures of society even this many years after our so-called advances in the world of unions.

Another story, “Smoke,” pushes the reader back into childhood memories through pictures from a child’s point of view. But Winn writes the story in third person so that there is still a hint of distance from the child’s version. When the narrator’s voice states, “the day Daddy stayed home and the boy did things wrong, and his father said a crybaby was no son of his,” it is possible for a reader to have a foot in both camps, as a parent who has said something that harsh and the child who has received those words. Even so, it is hard not to slide back into the discomfort of being with adults focused on childlike imperfections.


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