JESSIE by Judy Alter


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 From an award-winning Western writer (Libbie, not reviewed) comes the story of real-life Jessie Benton Fremont, covering the years 1839-90--a historical short on psychological insight if long on factual details and the romance of adventure. The unconventional, strong-willed Jessie, daughter of Missouri's formidable Senator Thomas Hart Benton, is her father's indispensable asset and ally, well versed in the world of politics and power. But when, against his wishes, the 17-year-old marries handsome, adventurous John Charles Fremont, she redirects her political savvy and emotional support to the famous explorer and politician. Jessie begins her lifelong campaign of shoring up her husband's ego by preserving his explorations for history as the ghostwriter of his Congressional reports; she shares his disappointment when the government refuses to fund any more of them. She also turns a blind eye to his failed gold mine in California and helps fulfill his political ambition to become Arizona's governor (another dismal disaster). Torn between loyalty to her father and to her husband, Jessie suffers long periods of estrangement from both men through the years. In middle age, she loses her coveted status among the rich and influential because the inconstancy of John's political and financial fortunes frequently uproots the family and depletes their wealth. But Jessie's devotion to John and her ambition for him never waver, despite the high price they exact. Only at the close--though even here it offers too little that's psychologically enriching to the story--does she admit that her husband bears some responsibility for his failures. Still, the stalwart Jessie maintains her unswerving love. A portrait that's in the end more superficial than perceptive.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1995
ISBN: 0-553-37465-6
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1995