We’ve reached the conclusion in Sheila LaGrand’s Remembering for Ruth serial novel. And now it’s time for true confessions.
The story so far: Paul and Margot Goodharte live in Calfornia, and are caring for Paul's mother, who suffers from Alzherimer's disease. Paul is a pastor; his black sheep brother Matthew shows up and seems to have had something of a black-sheep shedding experience. He becomes interested in next-door neighbor Sue, and the family has a coincidental meeting with Matthew's estranged daughter Amelia. The dog of former neighbors of the Goodhartes is left to them to care for, and Ruth becomes attached to him, naming him Zorro. The dog turns out to be a specially trained schutzhund, and obeys numerous commands -- in German. Amelia is invited to spend some time with the family, and when she arrives, she runs into immediate conflict with Matthew.
Then the family discovers Ruth is missing. The police are called in; the news media arrive; and Mrs. Delsey, the church busybody, organizes young people at the church for to help in the search and provide refreshments (in case you ever wondered, churches can’t do anything with food). A reporter talks to Mrs. Delsey, who lets her disapproval of the pastor’s wife slip into something of an accusation as to why Ruth is missing.
In “True Confessions,” the final installment of the novel, the police arrive to question Margot. Zorro the dog, despite the best efforts of the humans in the story, seems to know where Ruth is. Without giving too much of the story away, let’s just say it ends well.
The serial novel originated in the 17th century, when books were expensive; publishing in installments could help create a wider audience by bringing the cost down. It reached its height of popularity in the 19th century; large novels were often written in installments (what Charles Dickens often referred to as “numbers”) and published monthly. The 19th century witnessed an explosion in literacy; Dickens (for one) rode that wave and became famous as a result. So did Alexandre Dumas with The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. In the United States, the first novel to be serialized was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851, serialized in an abolitionist publication. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
The rise of broadcasting in the 20th century led to a decline in serialized fiction; stories were serialized on radio and later on television (ever wonder where the term “TV series” came from?). But radio largely abandoned serialized stories after the 1950s, leaving the concept to television. In 1984, Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities was serialized in Rolling Stone before being published in book-length form, but it was something of an outlier – until the internet. Web sites, online publications and eventually ebooks (of which Remembering for Ruth is one) have revived the serial form of published fiction.
So Sheila LaGrand’s Remembering for Ruth finds itself in good historical company. The print version of the entire book is scheduled to be published this fall.
Photograph by Peter Griffin via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.