Check It Out
Courier Articles by Sandy Schultheis
Sunday, March 4, 2001
Stories of Real and Fictional Women
To celebrate "Women's History Month" I've been looking for books about interesting women, both fictional and historical for the past few weeks. Here is a batch I have read or that have been highly recommended by women friends. All are available through your public library.
Bone House by Betsy Tobin (Scribner, 2001).
Set in Elizabethan England, this is a timeless story about woman whose past was mysterious and whose charismatic personality beguiled everyone, including the narrator who works as lady's maid at the manor house and whose mother is the local midwife. I don't want to tell you too much about the plot, which involves illegitimate children, and a mysterious death. The term "bone house" refers to the human body, which was believed to be of great importance in the determination of one's destiny. This debut novel is darkly compelling in its skillful portrayals of complex characters and events.
Off Keck Road by Mona Simpson (Knopf, 2000).
The title of this little novel did not at first entice me, but then it made me curious, since it takes place in Green Bay, Wisconsin (a place I visited briefly last summer). I was not disappointed in the low-key story whose main character, Bea, is the spinster daughter of a well-to-do family who befriends several residents of a shabby neighborhood. Bea is a strong woman who is both very conventional and a maverick at the same time. The secondary characters are interesting and quirky women as well.
Ella In Bloom by Shelby Hearon (Knopf, 2001).
Complex family dynamics are at the heart of a warm and readable novel by a veteran storyteller. The protagonist, Ella, is the unfavored daughter who had a "perfect" older sister who could do no wrong in their mother's eyes. When the sister dies in a plane crash a number of secrets begin to surface and old loves are rediscovered. A gentle story about a woman who is true to herself.
Uncommon Heart by Anne Audain and John L. Parker (Cedarwinds, 1999).
Audain was born in New Zealand with severe foot problems, which could not be surgically corrected until she was 13. Her adoptive family was loving and supportive and she had an active life despite her disability and the cruel taunts from schoolmates. Once she had recovered from the surgery she started running seriously and showed so much promise that a professional trainer invited her to be his student. She went on to become an international track star. This is the story of both her life and career as a runner and it is inspirational not only because she overcame a severe handicap but also because her personal life presented challenges as well. Audain is now an Evansville resident which gives her story a local connection.
The Women of Troy Hill: The Back-Fence Virtues of Faith and Friendship by Clare Ansberry (Harcourt, 2000).
Last Fall I received an e-mail from Ansberry's father-in-law (a resident of New Harmony) alerting me to this book, whose author is the Wall Street Journal's Bureau Chief in Pittsburgh. When it arrived in our new book shipment a few days later I thought I might give it a try, not expecting a book about a group of elderly ladies in a Pittsburgh neighborhood to be of great interest to me. But I was mistaken, this is a very well-written account of a community and the women who despite their advanced years, work diligently to hold it together. I read it cover to cover and recommend it as an uplifting and inspiring look at the power of women who get out and do things for others and don't let advancing years slow them down. An excellent choice for book discussion groups.
God Save the Sweet Potato Queens by Jill Conner Browne (Three Rivers Press, 2001).
If you have not yet met the Queens, previously introduced in The Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love, you are in for a laugh-out-loud treat. The author is a woman with attitude, spunk, a Southern accent and a word of advice for all of us "Be Particular". Her books are about enjoying life to the fullest and not being ashamed of anything. Guaranteed to keep you in stitches or howling with laughter, if you like your humor on the racy side.
Sandy Schultheis is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.