A debut historical, spanning 150 years of small-town Michigan life, that smoothly incorporates the growth of America into
the lives of its characters.
A descendant of the builders and subsequent inhabitants of the Kingsley House (now a historical museum), Ryan made use
of old photographs, documents, and the occasional stroll around the family burial plot in gathering material for this quasi-fiction,
amending and vivifying the scattered stories she’d heard about her ancestors. Divided into chronological sections, with each
branch of the family tree getting no more than a year, her account begins in 1844 as Mary and Nathan Kingsley are settling into
married life. Mary is pregnant with her first child, Nathan is working the fields of their farm, and both are enjoying the prim
grandeur of the house he built for his new bride. Into the gentle optimism of the couple’s days comes a runaway seeking shelter.
Viewed through Mary’s eyes, the incident bares the horror of a plantation slave’s shackled life. The narrative picks up 19 years
later, focusing on the sly exploits of Nathan and Mary’s son, Horace, as he helps phony spiritualists dupe the residents of
Livonia who are grieving the loss of native sons in the Civil War. Horace raises his ugly head throughout the work, cheating
neighbors, trying to commit his wife to an asylum, attempting to steal Kingsley House from his sister, outliving many of his
own children and other family members while casting an evil shadow over the house he was raised in. A diphtheria epidemic,
the sweet union of two teenagers who become lifelong mates, and a final romance between a shy schoolmarm and an adventurer
after WWII are just some of the stories contained within a long narrative made compelling by a large cast of lovingly rendered
characters. Though she occasionally stumbles with odd attempts at colloquialism (“Snipes, you miserable toady”), Ryan generally
avoids the weightiness that can mar this genre.
An admirable first effort.