In unsentimental but intimate detail, a collection of stories peels back stereotypes about the lives of women in the past. From the Old West to the 1960s, female lives that might be deemed ordinary are revealed as rich and complex.
Holladay (The Deer in the Mirror, 2013, etc.) focuses in these eight stories and one novella on girls and women trying to find their places in a world that often treats them as insignificant. A few of the stories have contemporary settings, but most take place decades or more than a century in the past. In spare but evocative prose, Holladay skillfully and subtly re-creates those earlier times while making clear their parallels to the present. The novella, A Thousand Stings, is the story of 8-year-old Shirley, striving to make sense of the impact of the 1967 Summer of Love on her small town, from a hippie minister who upends the family church to the blossoming of her older sister. In "Operator," set in 1954, a young woman working as a telephone operator and hoping to marry up tells us the surprising tale of what happens when she takes it upon herself to respond to an emergency call about a violent incident. Some of the best of these stories are set in the American West. In the title story, in 1854, young sisters Kate and Olivia sell their parents' Virginia farm after marrying a pair of brothers who persuade them to join a wagon train headed for Oregon—a harrowing journey with unexpected consequences. "Comanche Queen" is based on the true story of Cynthia Parker, who was captured by Comanches as a child, found 24 years later in 1860, and returned (with one of her children) to her white family. Parker spent the rest of her life trying to get back to the Comanches; Holladay tells her heartbreaking story from the point of view of her well-intentioned but benighted white relatives. "Interview with Etta Place, Sweetheart of the Sundance Kid" is just that, a fictional talk with the mysterious woman who was the companion of outlaw Harry Longabaugh. Holladay paints her at age 92, salty and humorous, recounting a startlingly different version of the deaths of Longabaugh and Robert Parker, aka Butch Cassidy. In a line that speaks for all the women in these stories, Place beseeches her interviewer, "Write it with me in the middle, not off to the side."
Women and girls often overlooked by history are given compelling voices in this collection.