An orphaned girl lives through 90 years of social and familial upheaval in this haunting fictionalized biography.
When smallpox carries off her brother, father and beloved mother Jencey in 1874, seven-year-old Lizzie Murphy is left with a void in her heart and a clouded future. Fortunately, the town of Miami, Mo., takes care of its own. Lizzie finds a loving home with a local judge, is romanced by a charming rogue who runs off to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and marries the seemingly more reliable lawyer John Casebolt. Alas, her husband proves a shiftless, egotistical bigot who repeatedly raids Lizzie’s meager savings to finance hare-brained, get-rich-quick schemes. (Fraudulent diamond mines are a perennial temptation). Lizzie’s life is shaped by the constraints imposed on women in a sexist society, but not shackled by them–fleeing in a Model T, the feisty heroine divorces John, opens a boarding house, sends her daughter Myrtle to college and holds fast to her feminist and progressive principles. Hendry, Lizzie’s now-deceased granddaughter and herself a character in the story, fleshes out Lizzie’s real-life adventures with invented scenes and dialogue that display a sharp eye for character and historical setting. The tumultuous narrative subsides a bit when Lizzie retires and moves in with Myrtle’s growing brood. There’s not much plot in the second half of the book–work, school, vacations, the antics of young children and everyday anxieties about the Depression and World War II fill the pages. But Hendry’s clear homespun prose invests her clan’s history with real pathos. As Lizzie ponders her life and the lives of loved ones, the leaps of faith young people make and the regrets old people feel, Hendry reminds readers of the quiet drama that plays out in every ordinary family.
A moving period saga with the ring of truth to it.