Email this review


 More a feat of historical imagination than a conventional novel, this 82-year-old author's first fiction presents a year in the life of a rural peasant in medieval England. Marion, wife of Peter Carpenter, has had a life marked by tragedy--most importantly, the deaths of several children, one of whom she still most especially mourns. She has also enjoyed some relative good fortune, with a generally reliable husband and, as the miller's daughter, automatic respect in the community. As the year passes, Marion is principally occupied with preparing for the winter ahead and tending to her children. She worries about the future of her lame son Peterkin, who will never be able to do an adult man's work, and she is pleased, if bemused, by the rapid development of her gifted young daughter Alice. Marion's year is filled with chores--baking, spinning, gardening--and with routine hardships--dealing with cold, hunger, illness, and pain. Meanwhile, some change occurs: Marion's sickly daughter Margery dies; a friend's husband, whom Marion once loved herself, falls victim to an infection; M'Dame, wife of the feudal lord, becomes pregnant; Peter acquires new authority after participating in a successful expedition to get salt; and a neighboring family descends into squalor. But as Marion goes about her day-to-day activities- -figuring out how to put out a fire when her only pails are full of milk, wondering what she really looks like when she has seen her reflection only in pools, mediating Peter's anger at his son's carelessness, or enjoying a rare good night's sleep--her greatest concerns are immediate, practical, and intimately related to the circumstances of time and place. The need to turn Marion into Everywoman sometimes puts an undue burden on the novel, but, still, Baer has crafted a persuasive and scrupulously detailed account, locating the universal in the specifics of one modest life.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-87131-818-0
Page count: 240pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997