The summer of 1901 in Denver sees the reunion of three sisters in this historical novel that hails the burgeoning independence of women.
It has been 11 years since Dr. Elizabeth “Lida” Clayton has seen her sisters, Mildred and Evangeline. When Lida married William after her graduation from Smith College, her mother was furious. William was a Northerner and his family manufactured guns used by the Union Army. During childhood, Lida was close to Mildred, who is three years older. But Mildred sided with their mother, creating a family schism. An unfortunate visit to the clan in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1890 resulted in a final blowout. Still, Lida, now a widow, remains in contact with her kid sister, Eva, who, at 25, is 15 years younger. Unexpectedly, Mildred and Eva accept an invitation to visit Lida and her two children, 15-year-old Sara Jane and 5-year-old Cole, in Denver, a hotbed of liberal thinking. Lida hopes this will lead to a reconciliation. But Mildred agreed to the trip as a ploy to help break up the developing romance between Eva and the man she is determined to marry, Bertram Dearman. Russell’s (All About Thailand, 2016, etc.) gentle narrative plays out over two months and, in alternating chapters, is narrated by the individual voices of Lida, Sara Jane, and Mildred (who readers hear through her letters home and her journal entries). The literary device works well, giving full dimension to all three characters. This is part love story (romantic and familial) and part examination of the early days of women entering the professional arena, with a hefty measure of political discourse thrown into the mix. But the most intriguing underlying plotline tracks Mildred’s halting transformation from grim, frumpy temperance advocate to a lively participant in Lida’s progressive circle of accomplished women. Sara Jane provides much of the humor; her enthusiasm, innocence, and teenage angst are rather charming. And the author’s descriptions of a booming Denver at the turn of the 20th century re-create the excitement of a city moving into the future.
A bit heavy on political rhetoric, but passionate female characters deliver a valuable message.