Thursday, July 30, 2015

THE LATE BLOOMING HARRIET DOERR

In her Los Angeles Times obituary the late writer Harriet Doerr (1910-2002) is quoted as saying that the worst sin is the failure to use one’s talent. This would not be true for the extraordinary Ms. Doerr whose first book was published when she was 73-years-old. Although born into great privilege as the granddaughter of Henry Huntington, she seldom shared this fact with anyone and spent much of her life in Pasadena, attending schools, marrying and raising a family, working in her lovely garden and volunteering in the community. Encouraged by her son to return to college after the death of her husband, Ms. Doerr went to Stanford where she enrolled in the writing program and mined her own past to write fiction.

Based on her experience living with her husband in a small town in Mexico, Stones for Ibarra became a National Book Award winner and a critical and reader favorite.  This story of an American couple who live in rural Mexico while the husband tries to restart a copper mine that belonged to his father, is a gentle, sparely-told novel that focuses on the eccentric characters living in an almost mystical town. Without being sentimental, the book captures the joys and tragedies of the couple and the people they meet.

Harriet Doerr’s pristine writing style is front and center for her second novel, Consider This Senora, about expatriate Americans who live in rural Mexico. Although its setting is similar to Stones for Ibarra, the storyline is very different and the reactions of the locals to these visitors is marvelous.

Written when she was 85, Tiger in the Grass was Doerr’s final work. It is a collection of essays and memories about her life, family and people she knew. She called these short stories inventions as their source is autobiographical, but their content is fictional.

 Harriet Doerr’s wonderful books can be found on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library.

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