Thursday, August 20, 2020

104. Letters From the Corrugated Castle

Letters From the Corrugated Castle: A Novel of Gold Rush California: 1850-1852. Joan W. Blos. 2007. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dear Cousin Sallie, I begin with words I never thought to write: I am not an orphan!

Premise/plot: Letters From the Corrugated Castle is told entirely through a series of letters. The letters are primarily from Eldora, our heroine, to her cousin Sallie. (Though sometimes she writes someone else.) But the letters are not exclusively from Eldora. The book has sections devoted to both main characters, Eldora, of course, but also a friend of the family named Luke Hall. Luke Hall writes the other letters. If there are additional letters written by different characters--they are few and far between. These two are the main characters. Eldora and Luke live in San Francisco. They start out as mere acquaintances at best--they don't have much in common, or even many people in common, but by the end of the story, their worlds are merging more and more. (Luke Hall even lives with her aunt and uncle for a bit of time while his own father is recovering.)

So the book is set in California during 1850-1852. During the course of the book, California becomes a state.

Eldora's story is definitely more of a coming of age story. She has believed herself to be an orphan all of her remembered life. But she learns that her mother did not die of a fever as they believed. She survived. And she's found her daughter again. Should Eldora leave the couple--her "aunt" and "uncle" that have raised her since she was two or three??? Should she go with her mother to another California town and live at her mother's inn???? Or is San Francisco where she belongs?

Luke's story is also coming of age in many ways. At first, he is ONLY about wanting to find gold and get rich. He wants to grow up really quickly. He doesn't want to fool with going to school and following rules when there's gold to be found. But slowly but surely he learns there is more to life...and education is essential to having a rich life.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I was surprised by the low ratings this one has. The one stars that say I hate historical fiction I can understand because there will always be haters hating. That would be their "review" for any historical novel basically. The two and three stars that find fault with the characterization and storytelling are more confusing. Reading is subjective. I know this to be true.

I did not find the book boring--far from it. I found it an engaging read. Granted, I didn't read it in one day, I read it one section per day perhaps. But I always put it down wanting to read more. And I always picked it up excited to keep reading. I felt that other characters were fleshed out because we got to know them through both Luke and Eldora's writing.

Much has been said in other reviews that the book was lacking because we don't have any responses to the letters; we never once hear from Cousin Sallie, for example. I didn't find this problematic. Not many epistolary novels do. I'm sure there is probably at least one that does because there are almost always exceptions to the rules--but for the most part, this is completely normal to only have ONE side of the correspondence. It makes me wonder how many epistolary novels the other reviewers have read in their lives to find this one flawed because of this "one-sided-ness."

Now I will say that I completely understand why some would find it jarring to switch back and forth between Eldora's story and Luke's story. (Both, of course, told through letters.) That I get. I mean I liked both narrators. I did. And I personally did not have issues with this switching back and forth. But I could see why that might be a legitimate reason for someone to say this book isn't what I wanted.

The book is INTROSPECTIVE and character-driven. I could see how some might think it was lacking action. But again, some people might enjoy it because it is introspective and character-driven.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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