“Agnes Canon’s War” by Deborah Lincoln
Available from: Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Powell’s
Released on: 1 October 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review, as part of this book’s blog tour.
Description: “I saw a woman hanged on my way to the Pittsburgh docks…”
Agnes Canon is tired of being a spectator in life, an invisible daughter among seven sisters, meat for the marriage market. The rivers of her Pennsylvania countryside flow west, and she yearns to flow with them, explore new lands, know the independence that is the usual sphere of men.
This is a story of a woman’s search for freedom, both social and intellectual, and her quest to understand what freedom means. She learns that freedom can be the scent and sound of unsettled prairies, the glimpse of a cougar, the call of a hawk. The struggle for freedom can test the chains of power, poverty, gender, or the legalized horror of slavery. And to her surprise, she discovers it can be found within a marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman who are equals in everything that matters.
It’s also the story of Jabez Robinson, a man who has traveled across the continent and seen the beauty of the country and the ghastliness of war, as he watches his nation barrel toward disaster. Faced with deep-seated social institutions and hard-headed intransigence, he finds himself helpless to intervene. Jabez’s story is an indictment of war in any century or country, and an admission that common sense and reasoned negotiation continue to fail us.
As Agnes and Jabez struggle to keep their community and their lives from crumbling about them, they must face the stark reality that whether it’s the freedom of an African from servitude, of the South from the North, or of a woman from the demands of social convention, the cost is measured in chaos and blood.
This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the prelude to civil war.
Review: This book reminded me a lot of ‘Centennial,’ and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I mean the mini-series from the ‘70s rather than the book. I have yet to manage a sojourn through Michener’s epic (and epically sized) work. But my mother loved the mini-series, so I watched it a lot when I was younger and I still enjoy it. Anyways, what I mean by that is that this felt like a story as much about its setting as the “main” characters; perhaps more about the setting.
We do follow Agnes Canon and Jabez Robinson, and their families and their lives together, but we also follow a town and a state and a people over the course of more than ten years. And when talking about the 1850s and 1860s in America, what a ten years that was. We follow the years that led up to and then through the Civil War, but what makes this book interesting in that is that it’s set in Missouri. It was a much “greyer” area between people siding with the unionists versus the secessionist, the slave-holders versus the abolitionists. It was more divided and less decided than the far north or deep south. So for a book about the civil war, and for a girl with family in Alabama and Connecticut, it provided a different perspective than I usually get and I liked that.
This was a very good book. It was very readable. The way it moved through time–fitting so many years into a three hundred page book–could be a little jarring, but not that bad. Even if you looked at the surroundings and the setting more than the people, you still felt the people. You still got into the characters.
Agnes was an interesting portrait of what a woman was expected to be in her day and age and the modern way that women reading these books today wish those historical figures had been like. Jabez showed the general restlessness of much of America, and all those who moved west to the uncharted areas. And in them and through them, we see a lot of the fuzzy lines of that time period.
Overall, this story was…heartbreakingly realistic. There were some scenes that were very difficult to read and, yes, made me cry. But they were true to the day they lived in, and well portrayed. And the fact that this story was based on some of the author’s personal lineage makes it all the more fascinating.
I can’t quite say this was a 5 for me, but 4.5 Fireballs is sound.