This is a well-written tale about ripple effects. The world is just starting to understand the impact of rapidly-traveling global news by means of the telegraph when news of Oscar Wilde’s prosecution reaches a small Nebraska town, bringing with it a rash of homophobic sentiment that threatens the quiet, comfortable life of a lesbian couple.
Where this story really comes to life is in the cast of supporting characters. Ms. Mahurin took her time building her townsfolk and bringing them to life, and it shows. She also took her time in her research of the time period (excepting some occasional lapses into a more modern vernacular that felt out of place and anachronistic.) The one place this adept handling of minor characters fell short was in dealing with the antagonists, the town’s busybodies whose gossip threatens the title character and her partner and their newfound friend. It was clear She tried to make her main antagonist less two-dimensional by giving her a background that might explain her antagonism, but that felt a just the smallest bit too contrived, based on a coincidental resemblance on the part of Mildred Dunlap’s enterprising father. The timeline also didn’t add up, in that Josie’s backstory to make sense, she would have had to be in her 40s, and yet she had school-aged children, and didn’t seem the type to marry and have children late in life, particularly in that day and age. So the gossip’s backstory ultimately didn’t make sense, but then, perhaps that was part of the point: that hatred is ultimately senseless, no matter how we try to rationalize and excuse it.
The time line became confusing in one other place as well, and this is in regard to the age of Mildred’s partner Edra at a certain formative event in her life. It seemed to be described as having happened when she was thirteen at one point, and then later she appeared to be eight. Also troubling was the age disparity between her and Mildred. The age at which Edra initiated their relationship would not have been so troubling, had Mildred been closer to her own age, but Mildred is later described as being ten years older than Edra.
All told, though, despite these issed, it is a well-told tale. The recurring imagery of the rattlesnake was particularly deft, in that at the end there is a very clear parallel drawn between rattlesnakes emerging from winter hibernation and the town gossips once again resuming their activity in the spring following a winter of tragedy. That tragedy, also, was a very skillful touch, because the person who paid the price for the vindictiveness of this cast of characters was the most innocent character of all, and that is a powerful message. Bigotry hurts the innocent.
Very well done.
Author/Reviewer comments addendum on this review on Amazon: