As we finish up the last nostalgic words of The Story Girl for the next podcast, we turn our eye towards the future…actually, the past. Historical Fiction month is coming up! In an effort to reduce my TBR pile, I’ve picked the choices from books that have been sitting unread on my shelf for far too long. My partner has been recommending the Itani for a few years now, an old friend recommended the Behrens, and I’m just in the mood for a good chase-scene kind of book when it comes to the Adamson (though I believe Kirtles has read it already, but I’m feeling selfish so he might have to read it again). Thanks for voting!
Deafening by Frances Itani:
At the age of five, Grania-the daughter of hardworking Irish hoteliers in smalltown Ontario-emerges from a bout of scarlet fever profoundly deaf and is suddenly sealed off from the world that was just beginning to open for her. When it becomes clear that she can no longer thrive in the world of the hearing, her family sends her to live at the Ontario School for the Deaf in Belleville, where, protected from the often-unforgiving hearing world outside, she learns sign language and speech.
After graduation Grania stays on to work at the school, and it is there that she meets Jim Lloyd, a hearing man. In wonderment the two begin to create a new emotional vocabulary that encompasses both sound and silence. But just two weeks after their wedding, Jim must leave home to serve as a stretcher bearer on the blood-soaked battlefields of Flanders. During this long war of attrition, Jim and Grania’s letters back and forth-both real and imagined-attempt to sustain their young love in a world as brutal as it is beautiful. Frances Itani’s depiction of a world where sound exists only in the margins is a singular feat in literary fiction, a place difficult to leave and even harder to forget.
The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens:
The Law of Dreams tells the story of a young man’s epic passage from innocence to experience during The Great Famine in Ireland of 1847.
On his odyssey through Ireland and Britain, and across the Atlantic to “the Boston states,” Fergus is initiated to violence, sexual heat, and the glories and dangers of the industrial revolution. Along the way, he meets an unforgettable generation of boy soldiers, brigands, street toughs and charming, willful girls – all struggling for survival in the aftermath of natural catastrophe magnified by political callousness and brutal neglect.
Peter Behrens transports the reader to another time and place for a deeply-moving and resonant experience. The Law of Dreams is gorgeously written in incandescent language that unleashes the sexual and psychological energies of a lost world while plunging the reader directly into a vein of history that haunts the ancestral memory of millions in a new millennium.
The Outlander by Gil Adamson:
“It was night, and the dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling.” Mary Boulton, 19, is newly widowed, a result of having murdered her husband. The men with the dogs are her twin brothers-in-law, gunslingers bent on avenging their dead sibling. It is 1903, and the only place for Mary to run is west, into the wilderness.
She is pursued not only by the vengeful twins but also by visions. Mary was raised in a genteel household but married a brute; now, having divested herself of her husband, she is not altogether sane. From an early benefactress she steals a horse, and together they navigate a gothic, ghostly mountain pass, unlikely to improve Mary’s mental state. Desperate, freezing, and alone, Mary is now an outlander, as are most of the characters she encounters. The bird lady, the Ridgerunner, Bonny, the dwarf, and the cat-skinner are all earthbound beings inhabiting unsettled lives.