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Chidester, Ann

CHIDESTER, Ann

Born 1919, Stillwater, Minnesota

Raised and educated in Minnesota, Ann Chidester graduated from St. Catherine's College in St. Paul. She began to write during her teens, and in 1942, at age twenty-three, published her first novel. By 1950 Chidester had published five novels and numerous short stories in well-recognized magazines.

Chidester's novels show a concern for women and for the lower classes, but are frequently flawed by unnecessary dramatic and thematic complications, creating a lack of focus. They contain a strong commitment to the American scene, particularly the Midwest where she grew up. Young Pandora (1942), Chidester's first novel, is largely autobiographical; a young Midwestern girl attends an area university, has a love affair, begins her career as a writer, and sets off to see the country. No Longer Fugitive (1943) repeats the theme of travel from and return to the Midwest. The main character, a young man who refuses to be drafted, travels widely but ultimately returns to his ancestral home in Minnesota. The novel is dominated by the young man's grandfather, a pioneer of the Midwest, now living with grandchildren and great-grand-children in the old homestead. But the potential drama of this patriarch is lost in a confusion of unresolved issues, including war and pacifism, women's rights, the rights of blacks and Chicanos, Catholicism, and extramarital love.

The Long Year (1946) begins with the return of another wanderer to her childhood home in Minnesota. Kay Hasswell is an attractive, sophisticated business woman, married three times but now "belonging to no man." Feminists might cheer, but as Kay manipulates and subdues her brother, fires the employees of the company, arranges for the dismissal of a schoolteacher with leftist tendencies, and tries jealously to win her niece away from her boyfriend, we see that Chidester has damaged the image of the liberated female. Kay Hasswell finally leaves town without her niece, feeling old and lonely. The novel suffers from being overwrought; it includes threats of union activities and riots, two murders, a trial, and a suicide, all with undeveloped social implications.

But with Mama Maria's (1947) Chidester achieves focus and control, making it the most effective and moving of her novels. Mama Maria, an ailing widow whose only son was killed in the war, owns a rundown truck stop on a highway in mid-America. A veteran employed to pump gas and wait tables becomes a substitute son. Here Chidester's concern for the lower class reaches maturity, and the theme of jealousy and loneliness in old age is sensitively developed. In Moon Gap (1950) a young Nevada woman, deserted by her husband, goes to live with her father in a Mojave Desert ghost town. The atmosphere is that of an inescapable past, both for the town and for the girl. The theme of women's liberation is again unresolved as the choices for Cassie King seem limited to either husband or father.

The Lost and the Found (1963) develops Chidester's concern for the lower class in the story of a migrant worker's child who is raped and killed. The novel shows the California town's reaction to this crime: the newspaper writer is moved, the rich landowner is unconcerned, the young woman is appalled. A local un-American activities group hunts for communists but is finally ousted by a younger generation devoted to the highest ideals of the moderate left. The unnecessary profusion of characters and their superficiality prevents this novel from being successful, although we applaud its concern for the migrant workers' plight.

Bibliography:

Warfel, H. R., American Novelists Today (1951).

—SUZANNE HENNING UPHAUS

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