A town changing through time
Linked short stories offer a singular form of narration. Ideally each story can stand alone, but when read together, they overlap and intersect, continually offering new perspectives. Tracy Winn uses this form to explore the mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, from the years after WWII to the present day in her new collection, Mrs. Somebody Somebody.
As the Hub Hosiery mill changes from workplace to abandoned site to renovated condos and shops, so the characters shift—from factory girls pining for love to the unhappy heirs of the once-prominent families to the sons and daughters of the new immigrants that continue to find their way to Lowell in the 21st century.
The title story takes place in Lowell in 1947. The mill is in full production and filled with women, many of them European immigrants. It tells the story of Stella Lewis—an attractive girl whose dream is to marry rich and become “Mrs. Somebody Somebody.” This is a scenario unlikely to be fulfilled on the factory floor, though she keeps her eye on the owner’s grandson, Dr. Charlie Burroughs. Stella becomes friends with Lucy, an enigmatic Southerner who wins the attentions of many of the workers after she jumps in the river to save a drowning baby. This story introduces many of the subjects that Winn continues to explore throughout the collection—immigration, chance meetings and the American home front during wartime.
The collection also follows the decline of the Burroughses, once one of Lowell’s most prestigious and wealthy families. “Blue Tango” outlines the unhappy relationship between Charlie and Delia after Charlie’s return from Korea. Charlie had signed up barely a year into their marriage, and Delia still feels angry and abandoned. She retaliates with a series of affairs—behavior that doesn’t stop even after he returns home. Their marriage never recovers from these unhappy beginnings, and their children suffer the consequences, quickly turning from the neglected babies of “The Glass Box” into the troubled teens of “Copper Leaves Waving.”
The final few stories take place in present-day Lowell. The mills, long abandoned, have been repurposed and the big houses of Belvidere Hill torn down and turned into sub-divisions. The Polish and Italian immigrants have been replaced by Mexicans and Brazilians whose children are fighting in the Iraq war. In Mrs. Somebody Somebody, Winn has created a masterful mosaic of a resilient American city changing over time, populated with characters you won’t soon forget.