Blooming Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

At the time when Toth published Blooming, there were already in print a number of autobiographical childhood reminiscences set in various regions of the United States. Most of these, however, centered on the South, the North, large cities and ghettos, or ethnic communities; the Midwest was largely ignored as a setting for autobiography. Among autobiographical works of fiction, however, the Midwest is notably represented in writings of Ruth Suckow (Iowa), Sherwood Anderson (Ohio), Theodore Dreiser (Illinois), and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis (Minnesota), among some others. One critic, Robert L. Bartley, has called the Midwestern small town “our least understood regional culture” because of the dearth of literature from that area.

Besides beginning to fill that void, Toth has written vividly and engagingly, with the kind of details that bring to life the decade of the 1950’s. She dispenses pleasantries and not politics, optimism and not cynicism. Although the Korean War was being waged, children growing up in small-town Iowa were not directly affected by it and so paid more attention to sock hops and science projects. If they seem repressed or sheltered when compared to peers in a more urban setting, they were at least happy and enthusiastic.

Blooming gained instant acclaim in reviews from all regions of the United States, and was identified by The New York Times Book Review as a “Notable Book of the Year” in 1981. Toth’s first book, it was published when she was forty years old. It was preceded by several fiction and poetry selections appearing in Harper’s, Redbook, Ms., and The North American Review and was followed by two other autobiographical novels, Ivy Days: Making My Way Out East (1984) and How to Prepare for Your Class Reunion (1988).