Author: Steve Wiegenstein
Genre: Fiction (Historical / Pre-Civil War / Missouri / Communes / Utopia Movement / Abolition / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Blank Slate Press (4/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked to loved.
Did I finish?: I did -- it was so compelling.
One-sentence summary: In the years before the Civil War, an idealist establishes a commune in Missouri and the direction of his plans affects himself, his wife, and the residents of his commune.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's rather pretty and has a nice design, and it's refreshing to see a hist fic without a costumed woman on the cover. There's a theme of plants, seedlings, and clippings in the story, too, so the botanical image is super appropriate.
I'm reminded of...: Sally Gunning, Ann Weisgarber, Jenny Wingfield
First line: The keelboat moved so slowly against the current that Turner sometimes wondered if they were moving at all.
Do... I love that the book's title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem?: YES. Emily Dickinson wins no matter what, but the poem in particular is breath-takingly pretty.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, this is such a unique historical novel: pre-Civil War setting, utopia movement, abolition...
Why did I get this book?: It was a unique-to-me setting for hist fic, unlike my usual fare, and I was immediately intrigued.
Review: This was a fantastically great book. I rarely read historical fiction set around the Civil War, and this book's time span -- 1857 - 1862 -- was unique, fascinating, and compelling. Wiegenstein's writing is vibrant and engrossing, his characters uncomfortably real, and I was immediately plunged into a time and world that frightened and fascinated me.
James Turner is a philosopher and itinerant lecturer who wrote a utopian novel called Daybreak that inspired a Missouri man to donate land in hopes of establishing a real life Daybreak. Turner's new bride, Charlotte, eager to escape a sad home and embark on something promising, rushes to join Turner in the Missouri Ozarks. A Harvard-educated abolitionist, Adam Cabot, recently tarred and feathered in Kansas for his anti-slavery work, decides to join the community as well, and these three characters provide the frame for the story. But the secondary characters are just as compelling and fleshed out -- the other residents who decide to join Daybreak, the suspicious neighbors who are uneasy with the commune -- and I felt like I knew everyone.
I will admit that the love triangle-ish-ness was my least favorite part of the story, but I've got some weird hangup about infidelity that I kind of think I need to explore in therapy or something. (Seriously -- I've not been affected by infidelity myself and I used to love hot torrid affairs in my novels but now just a whiff of cheating makes my stomach hurt!) Regardless, the love triangle wasn't the focus of the story, really, and it served to provoke some great mental debate about ethics, ideals, and obligations.
Wiegenstein's writing style is straight-forward, evocative but not flowery. I was lost to the world every time I picked up this book and I didn't want it to end. Even if you're not a historical fiction fan, consider picking up this novel -- this is a philosophical armchair escape that is grounded, accessible, and real.
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