A Book Review by Juliana L’Heureux
Maine's Franco-American writer Rhea Côté Robbins, 45, gets well-deserved attention for her autobiography, "Wednesday's Child". Now in its third printing, her candid story is a best seller in Maine and number one on local best sellers' lists.
"It is overwhelming," says Robbins about the success of "Wednesday's Child". Her book is popular at the bookstores and in academic circles at Bates and Colby Colleges.
Robbins is an active Franco-American who gives a frank explanation about her upbringing in her honest autobiography. There's no romanticizing in her story. Instead, she paints a picture of Franco-American life as though she relives each scene while writing about it. Some of her prose is nostalgic, but not much.
There's a good possibility that "Wednesday's Child" will expand outside of Maine. For example, the Minnesota Women's Writers Association is reading the book, a good omen that could bring more national attention to the story. In another interesting development, the University of Maryland may include Franco-American women in their women's lecture series, thanks in part to "Wednesday's Child".
As an autobiography, Robbins breaks the tradition of telling her life from the absolute beginning. Instead, she tackles her life like a football lineman. First she confronts her family. They are traditional Franco-Americans who struggle to survive in their Waterville community. Like a blocker, she trips up her memories of religion because of the personal conflicts it causes her. She quite artistically describes the perverse influence of her Roman Catholic upbringing on her life and on the lives of her family. Finally, she wrestles within herself about how she fits into society, given her cultural heritage.
"Like I can remember the curve in the road which I can see from my windows in my house with all the years I've looked out onto the road with my thoughts", she writes.
In fact, the road is the one traveled by her Quebecois ancestors. Between 1820 and 1920, one million of them immigrated to the Northeast from Canada.
"Like the heartbeat, … I have the French language, the French way of being in Maine," writes Robbins. Her prose belies the anguish she once felt about growing up a Franco-American. Reading the vignettes in her life is like brushing a water color painting with sand paper. There's lots of art with plenty of rough edges.
Altogether, in "Wednesday's Child", Cote-Robbins creates a tough love story.
Thank goodness, the distress Robbins feels eventually dissipates into cultural pride. Today, Robbins is an advocate for Franco-American studies at the University of Maine (UM) in Orono where she teaches women's studies. In the fall of 1999, she will conduct an interactive course on the Franco-American Women's Experiences. Anyone in Maine will be able to participate through computer or interactive television. Robbins also constructed a Franco-American Women's Institute home page on the Internet.
In the UM course, she will teach about the French immigration experience and subsequent lifestyles of the present-day Franco-American woman and her cultural ancestors. Participants will understand the historical and cultural implications for the women immigrants beginning in the 1600s to the present.
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Review published on March 25, 1999
Copyright 1994-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux