Tuesday, June 09, 2020

81. Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters

Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2020. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Historical fiction]

First sentence: A whimsical breeze rustled the paper beneath Elizabeth’s pen as she wrote in the garden, but she held the sheet firmly against the table with her left hand and it was not carried aloft. She lifted her pen and waited for the gust to subside rather than risk smearing the ink, and in that momentary pause a light shower of blossoms from the plum tree fell upon her, the table, and the head of her sixteen-year-old grandson Lewis, sprawled in a chaise lounge nearby, so thoroughly engrossed in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days that he did not notice the petals newly adorning his light brown hair. She smiled, tempted to rise and brush the blossoms softly to the ground with her fingertips, but he looked so charming that she decided to leave them be.

Premise/plot: Elizabeth. Frances. Ann. Emilie. These are some of the narrators of Jennifer Chiaverini's newest historical novel. The novel is told in alternating voices--each chapter narrated by one of Mary Todd Lincoln's sisters--and alternating times. The book alternates between the present--1875 moving forward--and the past--starting in 1825. The book centers on Mary Todd (Lincoln) and her mental health and capabilities.

Mary has always, always, always been Mary. Strong-willed. Easily offended. Bearer of grudges. Irresponsible with money. But now that the court has ruled her insane, the sisters each have their own reaction and response. What is best for Mary? Will they help Mary's situation or make it worse if they try to mend bridges and repair relationships now?

My thoughts: I found this a fascinating read. I love, love, love historical fiction. I haven't read much about the Lincolns. Though I do seem to remember having read a young adult novel starring Mary Todd--remember vaguely at least. I don't recall ever having read about her later years after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. So fascinating is about as good a word as any.

I am usually not a big fan of books with multiple narrators--but in this case I didn't mind. Each sister had her own relationship with Mary; each sister had a unique perspective. To only have the perspective of one sister would have been incomplete and inconclusive.

I usually prefer books with a clear chronological narrative--very straightforward. But again in this case I didn't mind. Readers are able to trace the story and arrive at their own conclusions about Mary.

I loved the focus on family and on sisters in particular. Elizabeth, the oldest sister, really went above and beyond to nurture her younger sisters and support them to the best of her ability. I liked all the sisters.

I would definitely recommend this one!

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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