Debut novel by former White House press secretary Fitzwater (Call the Briefing!, 1995, etc.), this based on the true story of a small-town scandal that took place in 1911 in Kansas.
It was a scandal, the publishers tell us, that Fitzwater’s own family might have had a role in but that he learned of only on his father’s deathbed. The tale begins with the return of Margaret Chambers, newly graduated from a Wichita teaching college, to Nickerly, the small hometown of her childhood. Margaret has come back to teach in the same one-room schoolhouse she attended not that many years before, and she brings all the fire and ambition of youth to her new job. But there is trouble from the start. Although she is a local girl, Margaret strikes many of the townsfolk as somewhat odd—a bit uppity, a bit too quick to change the routines everyone is used to. She wears jewelry, for example, and she shakes hands (just like a man!) when greeting strangers. What’s more, she seems to think it’s all right for her pupils to follow any career they wish—especially if it means leaving the farm and going off to the city for more schooling. Eventually some of the hard men of the town decide that she needs to be got rid of. They get a group together one night, abduct Margaret, strip her naked in front of the mob, and tar and feather her. But they’ve underestimated her pluck: Instead of running away, Margaret brings charges against the toughs in a long, drawn-out trial that brings national attention to the little Kansas backwater before it eventually vindicates her.
Somewhat flat and two-dimensional, but, still, a good portrait of small-town America at the dawn of the last century.