I am so sorry that May Sarton's newest book is being subjected to the harshest of criticisms. The book is both lyrical and lovely. The persons and feelings Sarton creates flow as naturally from her pen as does the ocean's tide, and they are every bit as real. She has a way of making the daily progression of occurrences and emotions universal. It is not only her characters who feel a certain way about the death of a friend, growing old, or the companionship of a beloved pet; we all do. When Caroline, her friend of many years, dies, Harriet says, "I feel as though the whole geography of the island on which I live has been changed." Sarton's thoughts resonate within us long after they are read.
Katherine Forrest objects to the protagonist's ignorance (read, "density") of certain social and political issues of our time. No one knows better than Harriet herself the life she has led and what she is confronting for the first time now that she has opened her bookstore. She has, as she says, been "shocked into consciousness" on many fronts: "At 60 I seem to be learning a lot, chiefly learning, in fact. Growing up! It may appear humorous to some people, people who tease me about my innocence, but it makes life extremely interesting. What more can one ask at 60?"
Indeed at any age. So sincere is the belief in her own growth, in both the fear and determination with which she comes out of one world and into another, that Forrest's judgment, her refusal to accept Harriet's emotions and experiences as plausible, let alone real, are unsettling and unnecessary. Read for its richness, for its wondrous telling of a story of a life, "The Education of Harriet Hatfield" is an education for us all.
LAURIE B. REESE