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
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
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.