HEARTS OF FIRE by Kemp Battle


Great Women of American Lore and Legend
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 With little more of a unifying theme than the notion that we need these heroines now more than ever, this superficial salute to American women feels less like an anthology than a garage sale. Having noticed that women were underrepresented in the selections he published in Great American Folklore (not reviewed), Battle set out to rectify the problem. He had no difficulty locating intriguing works by and about women. Indeed, the proof is in how many of these authors shine despite the brief fragments he offers of their writing, which are hardly calculated to show them off to advantage. Such pieces are as different as Luella Day's recounting the challenges of practicing medicine during the Yukon gold rush and Marietta Holley's description of how her most famous fictional character, Samantha Allen, could not begin writing a book on ``the great subject of Wimmen's Rites'' until she convinced her husband he would not have to pay anyone to read it. However, Battle takes mere scraps of these texts and jumbles them in with Miss Manners's pronouncements on proper attire for a second wedding, a paragraph on Lizzie Borden, a Cherokee tale on why the sun and moon do not meet in the sky, a page-long account of Mary Hemingway snarling at Lauren Bacall because Papa was making eyes at her, and the inevitable ``Remember the Ladies'' comment from Abigail Adams. Then he tosses these scraps into various chapters labeled ``Marriage,'' ``Frontier Journeys,'' ``Bad Girls,'' ``Breaking the Barriers,'' and so on. Belle Starr and Rosa Parks, a recipe for fried squirrel and a description of Margaret Sanger opening America's first birth-control clinic--all are on a par here, the effect being as much to trivialize women's culture as to celebrate it. Bargain-barrel culture for those who measure their attention span in sound bites.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-517-70397-1
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Harmony
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997