Do you ever feel like books were tailor-made for your interests? Well, when Janet Fox's Faithful arrived a few weeks ago, I kind of got that feeling. I grew up visiting the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, with my family, taking long walks near The Breakers, imagining what it would be like to live there. Granted, this was when I was ten, and for some reason I imagined I was currently living there, instead of taking a more historically accurate spin on things. I had my dream fancy rich life played out. I was always "Veronica." In more recent years, I traveled out west, to Yellowstone National Park, with my best friend and her mother. We stayed in the Old Faithful Inn, and it was impossible not to imagine that place at another time. It just oozes history. It's hard not to imagine what stories lay tucked into the cracks of the wood there. And so I settled into my favorite reading chair for Janet Fox's debut novel, hoping to get sucked into the atmosphere of these two places with which I already felt a connection.
Imagine living in turn-of-the-century Newport, RI, where it's the norm to be spending time in mansions like The Breakers. Places like that are your friend's houses, where you attend parties -- excuse me, galas. All of this is the norm for Maggie, a young woman whose often emotionally distraught (depressed, suicidal really) mother has gone missing, and is perhaps dead. When Maggie's father suggests they leave town, that there's a lead they're following about her mother being out near Yellowstone. Looking forward to her own coming out gala, Maggie is torn away from all that she has known, and a few train rides later, finds herself in the gorgeous, frightening wilderness of Yellowstone. And it's there that everything falls apart, slowly and surely, and everything is rebuilt. Her father and her uncle have deceived her, but there's more deception to unravel (yes, I'm being vague, but only so as not to be a spoiler!).
Yellowstone proves to be everything that Newport society is not. It's a place where a woman just might be able to stand up for herself, craft a life for herself that is not completely determined by men. Maggie finds a kindred spirit, an idol of sorts, in Mrs. Gale, a photographer who reminds me a bit of the "unsinkable Molly Brown" of Titanic fame. And then there is Tom, who tests Maggie again and again, who expects something of her that she hadn't imagined to expect of herself. The descriptions of Yellowstone resonate with my own experience, as does Maggie's reaction to this marvelous landscape. I was definitely saddened at the small role that bison play in the book (aside: I am a huge fan of bison in the way that children have favorite animals; I'm just playing that whole scenario out, twenty years too late), but recognize that for the sake of being historically accurate, it just had to be that way.
I would easily recommend this one to fans of Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky (one of my favorite historical fiction reads in recent years) and anyone interested in the challenges women faced in that era.