Love and Lament by John Milliken Thompson
Published: August 6th 2013 by Other Press
Format/Source: Paperback ARC from Book Expo America
Genre: Historical Fiction
A dauntless heroine coming of age at the turn of the twentieth century confronts the hazards of patriarchy and prejudice, and discovers the unexpected opportunities of World War I
Set in rural North Carolina between the Civil War and the Great War, Love and Lament chronicles the hardships and misfortunes of the Hartsoe family.
Mary Bet, the youngest of nine children, was born the same year that the first railroad arrived in their county. As she matures, against the backdrop of Reconstruction and rapid industrialization, she must learn to deal with the deaths of her mother and siblings, a deaf and damaged older brother, and her father’s growing insanity and rejection of God.
In the rich tradition of Southern gothic literature, John Milliken Thompson transports the reader back in time through brilliant characterizations and historical details, to explore what it means to be a woman charting her own destiny in a rapidly evolving world dominated by men.
It should have been named Lament and Love, because not only was that the order in which I feel like events in the book go but it also describes how I was feeling about the book.
The Hartsoe family experiences one tragedy after another, witnessed and experienced by the youngest child, Mary Bet. It leaves a profound mark on her and the family’s psyche. The story then follows Mary Bet as she grows up, learning some secrets and what kind of an adult she wants to be.
The first half of the book was not too enjoyable for me. For some reason, the first quarter felt passive in the way it was written. I felt like I was reading about scenes instead of being in the scenes. Then the second quarter was so depressing. It was almost a joke with my boyfriend, “well, another person has died!” It is definitely a heavier read and I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to it.
The second half though sucked me in a lot more. It became more active and it focused more on Mary Bet’s development. In fact the very end had me wanting to read more instead of just feeling compelled to finish it.
It’s a mixed bag book for me, and I am not doing a very good job of explaining it, but it was enjoyable, I’m glad i read it, I just think the beginning could have been set up differently. It runs the risk of scaring away readers before the good parts.
My rating: 3/5