A debut multigenerational memoir focuses on the strong women in the author’s family tree.
In this book, Stradling mingles the standout stories from her own genealogical past with the spiritual lessons exemplified by those tales. Her narrative spans five generations of her family's history, and she delves deeply into as many of the particulars as she can uncover from each era. She tells the stories of her great-grandmother Mackie, her grandmother Minnie, and her mother, Gail, generously mixed with echoes and reflections on her own contemporary life. Readers will likely be struck immediately by her decision to employ a number of novelistic devices, such as dramatic pacing, crosscutting between narrative strands, and reconstituted dialogue. She uses all of these techniques with a very skilled and pleasingly light hand—the result is the kind of reconstructed family history every author strives for but rarely achieves. Readers follow these women as they deal with the heartbreak of losing loved ones, a kind of tragedy that strikes Mackie often and quite dramatically, which helps to make her the book’s most memorable character. “People were instinctively drawn to her,” readers are told. “She was charismatic and empathic.” Stradling also chronicles the challenges of these women’s daily lives and careers, particularly in the case of Minnie, who earned her master’s degree from the University of Washington in 1936, became a Shakespeare scholar, and had a strong effect on the education world of her day. The author has deeply researched her subjects and steeps her account in letter and diary extracts, all assembled and studied with obvious care. Small recurring details—Gail’s love of the written word, for instance, or the comfort Mackie drew from the teachings of Christian Science—are thus brought wonderfully to life. And the work’s underlying spiritual message—“Faith and prayer are more than a few words”—is rendered all the more clearly for not being stridently presented.
A highly readable family story that brims with heart and optimism.