Charyn, Jerome. I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War. Liveright: Norton. Feb. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780871404275. $26.95. F
It should be no surprise that a historical novel by Charyn captures the attention. A deeply lyrical writer, he has proven himself adept at reworking America’s historical legends from 1980’s Darlin’ Bill to The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson in 2010. Reworking is the key to Charyn’s approach. His concern is not so much what has been written down about Abraham Lincoln’s actions as the inner life and tensions of his famous protagonist: his depression, his deep feelings of unworthiness, but also his compassion for the downtrodden. This re-creation of Lincoln’s life is as much domestic history as public, with Lincoln contraposed to his fiery but deeply troubled wife and his three very different sons. Charyn’s Lincoln is a real man, not a stick-figure saint. He lusts for Mary Todd in language that is earthy, at times even bawdy. But Lincoln was also, and always, a man who strove to listen to the better angels of his nature, and this, too, comes out in Charyn’s book. VERDICT This is another fine novel by a very good author who has a proven track record of attracting readers of all persuasions. What’s not to like? [See Prepub Alert, 8/12/13.]
Margolin, Phillip. Worthy Brown’s Daughter. Harper. Jan. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062195340. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062195364. F
Approximately 30 years ago, Margolin began writing this novel inspired by a case from the 1800s in which Col. Nathaniel Ford brought a slave family from Missouri to Oregon to help him start up his farm on the condition they would be freed after it was up and running. Colonel Ford freed the parents but kept the children as indentured servants. In this fictionalized account, attorney Matthew Penny, recently located to Oregon, agrees to help freed slave Worthy Brown recover his daughter, Roxanne, from his former master Caleb Barbour, a Portland lawyer. Many twists and turns later, Brown eventually finds himself on trial for murder. Matthew seeks help from a prominent attorney in the area, Orville Mason, and finds himself immersed in a scuffle between businessman Ben Gillette, his beautiful daughter, Heather, and gold digger Sharon Hill. VERDICT With plenty of action and short chapters, this historical legal thriller is a quick read. Some of the conversation seems stilted and contrived, and certain plotlines are too easily and quickly tied up. Margolin’s fans might be surprised by this one, which strays from his normal modern thrillers, but the lively narrative will keep readers engrossed. [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/13.]
Oliveira, Robin. I Always Loved You. Viking. Feb. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780670785797. $27.95. F
Paris in the mid-to-late 19th century was the place to be if you were an artist, especially an artist trying to shake up the stodgy traditional art institutions. It was the beginning of impressionism, a movement whose birth was quite painful for all involved. Oliveira’s (My Name Is Mary Sutter) new novel purports to be about the decade-long, convoluted, and complicated relationship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, yet it encompasses so much more—the relationships among other luminaries of the period, the difficulty of being a single woman and an artist in a harsh and often unforgiving male-dominated world, and the complexities of dealing with family. VERDICT Oliveira has woven a rich tapestry of the artist’s life in Belle Époque Paris, in a close, intimate rendering rather than a grand, sweeping landscape. Readers who enjoy historical fiction set in this time period will enjoy the novel, as will those who like fictionalized accounts of historical figures.