Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Washington's Lady--Nancy Moser
Well, yes, I did read one bad book from Bethany House before I picked up this one. And yes, it was so terrible that I picked this one up three times before I committed to it. But the subject matter of this one was so compelling, so utterly interesting and involving, that I was compelled to pick it up. No matter how terrible, no matter how fierce-bad, I had to read it because it is about one of those fascinating figure in history--half hidden and fully revealed--a person about whom there is more myth than reality--Martha Washington.
I'm glad my compulsion to read all things colonial/revolutionary America overcame the hesitation caused by my misinformed prejudice, because overall, this is a really fine historical novel. Are there elements of romance? Absolutely--but they are few and far between and mostly center around Martha's perfervid language regarding the troops that she visits in several winter camps. There is also the brief courtship and romance before she marries George Washington. But that, dear reader, is really all. None of the purple language, none of the impassioned heartstrings and throbbing interiors so dear to the writer of the second-rate romance. Indeed, Ms. Moser's book struck me as much more like Georgette Heyer than it did Barbara Cartland. And even the Heyer comparison does justice to neither author because this book is emphatically NOT a romance in any defined sense--it is the story of a person.
Told in the first person, the book traces the life of Martha Washington from the death of her first husband Daniel Custis (or thereabouts) to her own death, two years after that of the General. There is a certain risk in this--for while the book is told in the first person, there are definitely elements of the telling that have a modern twang as modern vernacular is used to convey some of the thoughts. (I'm thinking particularly here of an intrusion of the word "norm" in one passage.) But overall, the telling is effective. More than that, Ms. Moser looks admiringly, but unsparingly at the career of George Washington from the travesty of Ft. Necessity to the decidedly skewed win/loss record of George Washington's military career.
While much of the book gazes lovingly and admiringly upon the General, as one hopes that Martha may have done in real life, there is much here that is Martha's alone--from her defense of her son Jackie from the disciplinary measures that George wished to administer, resulting in making Jackie a largely useless person and afflicting the entire family line with the same sort of self-indulgent/self-destructive streak, to taking care of the countless guests who dropped into Mount Vernon without so much as a by-your-leave.
What is particularly heartening is the frequency with which Ms. Moser gets everything right. Indeed the minor downgrading of the rating below is based on the repetition of an error that so annoyed me the first time that I thought perhaps Ms. Moser was merely reporting an error of the paper of the times. But unfortunately, the error--saying that Mr. John Adams was a Continental Congress representative from Pennsylvania--is later repeated. That all of the details around the Washington family should be so carefully and lovingly reported and this is allowed to sneak in is somewhat dismaying.
In sum, if you tend to like history, and if you like fiction, and if you like fiction that hews close to historical fact and yet remains sprightly and lively, and if you like to see truly admirable historical figures take on life and be fallible and frail, and yet remain truly admirable--then you will find this book much to your liking.