“Charity creates a multitude of sins” – Oscar Wilde
Mildred and Edra share a sweet, real love. Edra is forever-scarred by a couple of tragic events in her life and because of that Mildred is protective of her. When news of Oscar Wilde’s conviction for “gross indecency” breaks Mildred fears it will direct attention to their lesbian relationship so she befriends Charley, a recent widower, in hopes of creating the illusion that she is straight. The story is about small-town prejudiced, self-righteous busy-bodies who create a great deal of misery, both intended and unintended, with their gossip about Charley and Mildred. This is a story about fear, ignorance and misperceptions on all sides. It’s about demonizing what we don’t understand. There are many layers to this story and many tragedies, one truly heartbreaking and completely unexpected.
The writing is easy to follow, flows naturally, and held my interest. I did think that the running theme about Mildred’s health was a bit overdone and not believable. Throughout the story Mildred is understand great stress and it manifests itself in her physically in ways that I found extreme.
Mildred and Edra are wonderful characters that we care about and sympathize with but my favorite character is Charley. He is a beautiful character. He is real and truly cares about Mildred. He sees her goodness and resents how unfairly and cruelly she is treated. He is on his own journey to identify which views he holds because they are what he truly believes and which he holds because they are what he has been fed all his life.
I also enjoyed Mahurin’s use of books throughout the story. Gus, the owner of the general store, has many views that are contrary to those of the rest of the town. He has a large collection of books and he shares them with Charley to get him to begin his examination of what he really believes about homosexuality, racism, and the fear of those that are different from him in general. Books also bring together Charley, Mildred and Edra and help Edra deal with her fears related to Charley and Mildred’s relationship.
With minor exceptions I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. It’s appropriate for any age and although it’s in the historical fiction genre it’s appropriate for anyone that enjoys fiction in general. It has themes that were relevant in 1895 and are relevant today. I find myself wanting to share it with family and friends.