If you are looking for a new author, I recommend Jojo Moyes. I’ve read several of her books recently, and The Giver of Stars is the most compelling. It is about five women in Depression-era rural Kentucky who become the Packhourse Librarians of Kentucky. Alice Wright marries Bennett Van Cleve with the hope of escaping England for the glamorous life she imagines in America. Alas, the newlyweds bunk up with Bennett’s inordinately abusive father Geoff Van Cleve and never consumate their marriage. Bennett’s father runs the Baileyville coal mine in southern Appalachia.
Alice eagerly joins Eleanor Roosevelt’s WPA traveling librarians and meets their leader Margery O’Hare, who is an early feminist and political activist. Beth Pinker and Isabelle (Izzy) Brady join their group. Isabelle is disabled from polio but discovers she can navigate quite nicely on a horse. She has a beautiful voice and aspires to become a singer. Their horses are courtesy of Frederick Guisler; the library is on his property. Margery rides a mule named Charley and is having a long-term affair with Sven Gustavsson, who is in charge of the mine’s fire crew and is a thorn in Mr. Van Cleve’s side.
Sophia Kenworth joins the group as librarian. Her brother William was permanently disabled by a mine accident. The Giver of Stars is historical fiction and chronicles the adventures which bond the women to each other and library patrons along their routes. A small blue book isn’t in the library’s ledger but is quite popular with women struggling to navigate their marriages. After Mr. Van Cleve discovers that Alice has read the book, he goes on the warpath to shut down the library.
After the death of her husband, Kathleen Bligh replaces Izzy. When Mr. Van Cleve learns that Alice has given two of his late wife Delores’s china dolls to little girls on her route for Christmas, he beats her bloody. She walks out the door into bitter cold without a coat. It takes her nearly an hour and a half to reach Margery’s cabin. Mr. Van Cleve’s rage escalates as he realizes he can’t control Alice or Margery:
You know the worst thing about a man hitting you? Ain’t the hurt. It’s that in that instant you realize the truth of what it is to be a woman. That it don’t matter how smart you are, how much better at arguing, how much better than them, period. It’s when you realize they can always just shut you up with a fist. Just like that.
You play by their rules or they. . .well, they squash you like a bug.
I opted to review The Giver of Stars to share that brilliant quote. Yesterday’s arraignment and unsealing of the indictment against the former guy (Donald Trump) reminds us of how easily and mercilessly a wealthy, powerful man can indeed squash people like bugs. He’s done it all his life with impunity. Will he finally be held accountable? I hope so.
Photo credits: Jojo Moyes