The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap
The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap (Paulette Mahurin) is the story of the unique Mildred Dunlap and her struggles fitting in with the world around her. Set in the 1890’s, with Oliver Wilde’s arrest for homosexuality in England providing the undercurrent, the novel moves at a swift pace. Mahurin adeptly explores themes of race, class, sexuality, family, and religious freedom while keeping the reader engaged with and caring about the main characters.
Mahurin’s writing style is straightforward. Descriptions are lean, almost like Mozart in a way – no more than what is needed, but no less. The plain speech is mostly free of jargon and colloquialisms that one might find in other books of or exploring late 19th century America. At first, Mahurin’s separation from colloquial speech is jarring, but the familiar tone of the dialogue keeps the story relatable. Mahurin made a smart choice: by keeping the writing style lean and the dialogue clear, room to explore complex themes is expanded.
The main characters of the book do a good job carrying the weight of the narrative, but strength lies in the development of rich supporting characters whose inner lives become revealed, as needed, to buoy the different philosophical arguments in the story to new heights. Thus, every character in the book is an invitation to think about the issues being presented. Just one example of a character whose presence in the story ebbs and flows this way is Gus, the shopkeeper. Throughout the story, we learn more about his experiences with class, religion, and philosophy, and he becomes more critical to the main plot. Most authors would be challenged to write these complex themes without weighing down the story. Mahurin rises above and beyond the challenge, giving readers a story that flows along so smoothly that one might not notice all of the nuance at first read. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap is a book that will open eyes and minds, a book that deserves a critical look because it addresses issues that still plague society today.