The Little Locksmith: A Memoir

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A Year in Reading: Darcey Steinke

First published in 1942, The Little Locksmith, by Katherine Butler Hathaway, is a book of great charm and grace. I don’t think I’ve read a book as intensely charming since, as a teenager, sunning myself on the deck of my ranch house, I read Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. Charm, that most illusive of literary qualities only affects me when it is undercut by deep sorrow. It’s hard to imagine a story that begins as grimly as Hathaways. In 1895, a doctor straps five-year-old Katherine to a board so she won’t become a hunchback. The story moves through her struggle to find a meaningful life despite her bodily limitations. She is honest about her frustrated sexual desire and her longing for a house of her own. Hathaway writes with precision and spiritual dignity, giving advice that jumps off the page and directly into the heart. “It is only by following your deepest instinct that you can lead a rich life, and if you let fear of consequences prevent you from following your deepest  instincts, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin.”

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