Ok, I’ll give it away immediately: this is one charmer of a book! It’s the story of a woman who escapes an abusive husband and chronic poverty by participating in contests and winning prizes in a big way. She is so good at it, she makes a living with it and eclipses her husband’s earnings.
All in all, though, it’s at the same time the story of ten kids that have to suffer through a childhood full of strictures just to find themselves a wonderful family that will stick together forever. This is all told with the honesty that accompanies American family biographies, revealing all in a humorous tone.
Evelyn Ryan once dreamt of becoming a writer, but was forced by a premature pregnancy into giving up her career and marrying a poor metal worker who turned out to be abusive and an alcoholic to boot. Catholics as he is and she became with marriage, they set up a baby factory that reliably spits out a new Ryan every other year. They stop at ten, with the means to bring up maybe one child, before Dad spends a third of his income on alcohol.
Evelyn needs to find a way to make ends meet, and chooses contests. In the 50es and 60es, contests were huge, and they tended to favor the skilled. In essence, you were asked to submit some form of marketing material (like a slogan or jingle), and those with verbal skills could win huge prizes.
Evelyn has a “knack with words” and succeeds in making a win just when desperately needed. Towards the end, she will save the family house from foreclosure by winning a National grand prize a day before it’s too late.
One after the other, the Ryan kids leave the house, but the story never grows boring. Unlike many a biography, this one is able to continue staying real till the very end. Congratulations to Terry, one of the Ryan kids, she’s paid her mother the probably greatest possible compliment: a book dedicated to her and her loving, selfless ways. Maybe the mother never made it to writer, but having a daughter that did by presenting your life as a painting – I don’t think Mrs. Ryan could have been prouder.