Two women, living 150 years apart, struggle to define family and to find fulfillment in life when they realize they can’t have children.
Eden has been trying to conceive a child for years and, emotionally drained and depressed, must face the fact that it may never happen. A new dog, a precocious neighbor girl, and a broken doll’s head in a hidden root cellar help her build a home that is different from the one she once imagined. McCoy (The Baker’s Daughter, 2012, etc.) alternates between telling Eden’s story and the story of true historical figure Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John, who served as an artist for the Underground Railroad. Strong, sensitive, and driven to make a difference in the world, Sarah, who is unable to bear children after a dire bout of dysentery, rejects the traditional path of wife to become an educator and, eventually, foster mother to two black children. Their narratives intersect in the end as Eden learns more about the history of her house. Though the novel is a bit slow to begin, the women’s stories are engaging and emotionally charged. Sarah’s tale is particularly interesting, as her life has not been the subject of much historical exploration, and reading about the Underground Railroad and the Civil War from a woman’s perspective breathes new life into a familiar era. McCoy’s descriptive writing catches the reader up in both time periods and even accomplishes the difficult task of conflating the two stories without being too heavy-handed. Eden’s realization that “what fable and history could agree upon was that everyone was searching for their ever-after, whatever that may be” neatly sums up the novel’s heart—it’s about the family and the life we create, not always the ones we imagine for ourselves.
Though the conclusion doesn't surprise, it satisfies.