A mother and daughter discover empathy, courage and autonomy in this powerful first novel by Czepiel.
Set in the Hudson Valley in 1898, this brilliantly written story explores the lives and relationships of Ida Fletcher and her 16-year-old daughter, Alice, who exist within the confines of a restrictive society. Struggling to repay husband Frank’s long-standing debt to his older brothers, Ida and her family reside in a tenant house on the family-owned violet farm. It’s a bleak existence, and the family barely makes ends meet. Ida works as a wet nurse (in fact, she bore her youngest child, Jasper, in order to lactate), and Alice has been taken out of school to assist with the family income. Frank, a hotheaded, taciturn man, displays little affection for his family and expects them to accept his authority without question. After 23 years of marriage, Ida reflects upon their years together and ponders whether this has always been the case. Frank brings more babies into the household for Ida’s care, and he secures employment for Alice, which puts her in a precarious position and jeopardizes her dreams of a future with Joe Jacobs, the local preacher’s son. Frank’s actions result in life-shattering revelations for both Ida and Alice: Ida, her love for her children first and foremost, chooses to make a move that is almost unprecedented for a woman of her time and circumstances. And Alice, a strong young woman in her own right, must overcome her own past and learn to forgive her mother. A vivid portrait of life at the turn of the last century, the story is rich with historical detail and strongly defined characters. Czepiel portrays the often unpleasant aspects of Ida’s and Alice’s lives with reverential care and affords readers a finely tuned study in human endurance.
An excellent debut.