Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Book Review: The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap
Synopsis according to GoodReads:
“The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain’s recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde’s conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing.”
I was contacted by the author, Paulette Mahurin, about reading and reviewing this book….thankfully, otherwise I might never have come across it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing solely on the flashy big-press novels (especially YA and paranormal, which are “hot” right now). But independent and self-published books need love, too, and often among these you’ll find outstanding gems.
Such was the case with The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap. It’s historical fiction, but carries a very real and emotional weight. The story is timeless- members of a community being ostracized, or fearing being ostracized, hated, and injured, because of their differences. It’s poignant for several reasons, chief among them the realism.
The main relationship in the story (Mildred and Edra) is believable. It’s filled with faults, flaws, and foibles, like any real, adult human romance is (especially one that has been in existence for years). Most books I read, if they feature a relationship, but a rosy edge on it- everything is equal, everyone is either confident or cutely/charmingly shy, nobody needs to talk about where the relationship is and where it is going because apparently both parties are psychic and empathetic, etc.
Mildred defies gender stereotypes (of her day) but isn’t built like a butch lesbian.
Edra is basically a traumatized shut-in, but she isn’t helpless (just co-dependent).
Other highlights that make this novel an impacting read include realism with regard to setting and the functions of everyone in town. You do feel as if you’re there, and you can picture each character clearly with the depth of description Paulette uses. You also know the grey-toned motivations for everyone in town (ok, except Josie) and you understand the function for their gossip, fixation on certain things, and dynamic with their spouses and the other folks in town. It’s a microcosm for communities, as befits that era, and Paulette presents it gracefully and in such a way that you can’t bring yourself to harshly judge anyone in the book (ok, except Josie) because you understand them.
I highly recommend this one for lovers of history, folks from small towns, people who enjoy stories about human struggle, readers who understand hate crimes and prejudice, and I think it will resonate with female readers who have felt judged for their being atypical (or non-stereotypical…or non-conformist).