Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 408 pages; $27.00 (hardcover); reading level:  adult.

As Miss Constance Kopp tells it:  “Our troubles began in the summer of 1914, the year I turned thirty-five.”  Constance and her two younger sisters Norma and Fluerette are riding into town from the New Jersey farm where they live alone when their buggy is overturned by a reckless automobile whose driver refuses to reimburse them for damages.  The driver turns out to be the notorious Henry Kaufman, owner of the town’s silk dying company. When Constance pursues the $50 she feels she’s owed, Kaufman terrorizes her and her sisters putting Constance in league with a young female factory worker whom Kaufman has abused.  As Stewart (up until this book a writer of nonfiction) explains in her acknowledgments, the story was pieced together from real news articles and court documents which she meticulously researched before filling in the missing pieces with fictional details.  It’s an intriguing technique but she doesn’t quite make it work.  When reading nonfiction, a reader will defer to well-documented facts no matter how outrageous they might be.  In the world of fiction, the writer must make the reader believe the outrageous could  have happened, regardless of whether it really did or not.  This is where Stewart falls short.  There are some dazzling elements here.  The vulnerability of single women of the period is chillingly real and the coming-of-age process (experienced both by the sisters’ adjustment to their changed lives and by the securely-grounded Victorian age as it slides onto the shifting sands of the modern era) is skillfully handled.  The whole, however is uneven:  the characters are just shy of fully realized, the humor and the darkness make uneasy bedfellows, and all too often the conflicts (whether based on fact or not) seem solved by contrived plot turns.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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