PRIVATE KNOWLEDGE by Betty Palmer Nelson


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A sweet if scanty first novel, based on the life of the author's great-great grandmother, and set in frontier Tennessee. Once past the too-poetical prologue, it's a smooth coast back to 1849 and the town of Eustace, with its one general store, kept by Benjamin Pader, who came to own a fair portion of hill-country Tennessee by marrying Etta Sue, the daughter of a local planter. As the story begins, Benjamin has taken on a new tenant farm family, the Hamptons--including father Edgar, who'd rather run hounds than push a hoe, and daughter Molly, who ends up doing most of the work around the place and tending her multitudinous siblings. Almost inevitably, Molly catches Benjamin's eye, resulting in months of passion in the hay (with Molly imagining herself the Whore of Babylon) and a pregnancy. So, regretfully, Benjamin arranges for the gift to wed old Simon Henderson, in a marriage of convenience that eventually blossoms into a September-May romance--and holds finn even after their beloved daughter dies of rabies and Benjamin turns up to attempt to claim Molly at last. Nelson has imposed a distracting frame around the action--and perhaps has failed to explore Benjamin as deeply as she does other characters--but, still, this is elevated by its setting, which masterfully evokes the hardships, poverty, and beauty of life on the American frontier.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's