A book touted as a women’s Brokeback Mountain certainly knows it is fulfilling an overlooked niche in the world of literature. With great excitement, I began reading Paulette Mahurin’s historical fiction novel The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, while keeping in mind Annie Proulx’s story of the lifelong love between Wyoming cowboys sets a demanding standard.
The premise of Mahurin’s story involves two women who are living together as lovers in small town Neveda circa 1895. Mildred, the protagonist, is portrayed as a rather ugly, but wealthy woman, who generously helps others while keeping mostly to herself. Her cousin Edra, who was brutally raped at nine years of age, gives her love willingly to the cousin she trusts and grew up with.
Oscar Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” serves as Mildred Dunlap’s inciting incident. Each chapter begins with an appropriate quote from Wilde. Throughout the book, the town’s citizen’s gossip and react to the news of Wilde reported in the newspapers. This book definitely makes me want to learn more about Wilde’s trial, but I also found myself wondering if Wilde’s case really would be the shot heard all the way around the world in small town Nevada?
Once the town gossip starts to fly, Mildred starts to concoct a plan to get Charley, a recent widower to show interest in her, so as to deflect attention away from the living situation between her and Edra. Josie serves as a main source for gossip that serves to persecute Mildred. The reader is told this too many times, and not shown the details. Or perhaps it is just the action hinted at in the title did not match the connotations I associate with persecution.
As a reader, issues began to arise for me early on when the narrative viewpoint began to switch between characters. As a result, I never felt like I really got to know the characters well enough to form an attachment to their lives since the story flitted from one point of view to the next. Another issue presented itself in how the story feels so modern. At most times, aside from a few setting details, the scenes and dialogue read like it could be set in the present day.
A character named Gus serves at the voice of reason, but for 1895, the sentiments he expressed felt very modern-day. At times, he shared his reasoning on tolerance with other characters, but it comes across like the author giving the reader a lesson how humanity ought to treat each other with understanding and respect.
Overall, I liked this book, but feel it could be molded into so much more. It’s fascinating that this story was inspired from an old time photo, which is also featured on the book’s cover. Mahurin’s book does serve to enlighten readers, and she certainly practices what she preaches as all proceeds from the book go to help animal rescue.
You can connect with Paulette via her blog.
A complimentary copy was provided by the author in exchange for this review. For more insight, read my Book Review Criteria.
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.
The way different relationships were handled in the past showed a major difference between life then and now. More was swept under the rug in the past.
Even my parents, born in 1930 and 1940, still carry some of the old views. A friend os my wife had gotten married years ago. My mother had said to us “Oh, I thought she was ‘funny’.”
They grew up in atime when you might gossip about such things but never openly discuss them. Contrast this to now, where anything and everything is discussed so openly. Icould tell you what half the world had for dinner, with pictures, let alone who their lovers are.
I would probably end up reading this book looking for cultural inconsistencies.
I really like historical fiction books that can border on the truth and yet keep in interesting. Also, interesting link on the Oscar Wilde’s trial… I feel like I should have heard of that before, but I never have!
Dan: I didn’t know much about Wilde either, but Paulette’s book has definitely made me read more about it. The trials surrounding him truly did mark a shift in how people talked about sexuality.
Switching narrative viewpoint can be a useful storytelling technique, but when it gets in the way of the story, it’s not a good idea. It sounds like that was the major flaw in this one. Oh, well…
Interesting review. It’s too bad that the author does not seem to do justice to the story.
We have come a long way when it comes to these circumstances, but is some ways we need to journey further, don’t you think? The book sounds intriguing, beside anyone who works to rescue animals has to have a great heart.
Susan: I agree on both counts. I was truly impressed when I discovered that Paula gives the proceeds from sales of her book to help support animal rescue. She really is a great example of doing good work, both with her book and with saving animals.
I’m not sure any book will ever be considered the woman’s Brokeback Mountain just because in our male-centered culture lesbianism is not as much of an issue compared with male homosexuality in terms of its shock value.
Rolando: It does seem to be the case that lesbianism doesn’t ruffle as many feathers as a cowboy romance does, but I do applaud Paula for tackling the subject.
I like the storyline, but your review doesn’t make me want to read it. I have a hard time when characters could be presented a bit better. But it does sound like it could be a good tale, if the writing and point-of-view were improved.
Leora: During my reading of the book, I keep thinking if only this or that could be changed, the characterization would be so much stronger. I’m like the person who always imagines how to redecorate their house, only I do that with the books I read 😉
Since all profits from my book are going to animal rescue I wanted to speak out on its behalf if you will allow me this. I do so respectfully to an author’s site whose writing I deeply respect and have reviewed.
Jeri: I am grateful for your time and feedback with this review but please for those who haven’t read it, suspend judgment based on one review when there are over 170 on amazon to pick and chose from, including Professors of Literature, many professional people, large scale press editorial writer, mainstream national magazine editor, and many other readers that I don’t personally know or have any connection with who write about the excellent character development. The book has been featured in main steam press and two national nursing magazines for its human rights and pro-tolerance message. It has been featured by the prestigious Ojai Art Center’s Literary Branch for its read of the month last July by actress Leslie Paxton. It has been well researched by myself and a group of researchers that were involved in fact checking, right down to attitudes changing about homosexuality after Wilde’s imprisonment (NY Times article, April 5th, 1895), methods and modes of communications on the frontier, etc. but there were also creative fictionalized things added in to further the story. While the majority of reviews are favorable I take no offense with anyone’s opinion or critique and again thank you Jeri for your time and feedback.
Paulette: Thank you so much for stopping by and speaking on behalf of your book. I stand behind your efforts in advancing a pro-tolerance message novel as well as with all you have done for animal rescue. Both issues are very close to my heart. I also stand behind my review, and I value your professionalism and understanding when it comes to how readers’ opinions can vary greatly.
Thank you. We’re on the same page as far as valuing professionalism and appreciating the realities of differences. I’m grateful for a respectful disagreeing in the context of friendship. Paulette
Changing point of views and letting the reader get a good sense of each characters is a difficult task for a writer. William Faulkner did a great job of it in As I Lay Dying.
I just finished a historical fiction novel, too.
The storyline of this book doesn’t really interest me, and your comment about the author giving a lesson is a turn-off. “At times, he shared his reasoning on tolerance with other characters, but it comes across like the author giving the reader a lesson how humanity ought to treat each other with understanding and respect.”
Thanks for sharing.
The novel sounds fascinating and the story of these two specific women is not one I’m familiar with. Oscar Wilde’s trials were extremely well published in the UK at the time, so it is possible they were heard of in Nevada, though perhaps it may be a little poetic license on the part of the writer making comparisons to gay oppression in two different countries at the same point in history.
Multiple view points is an interesting way to narrative tool, but does need careful handling for it to be successful.
The storyline alone makes it of interest to me, so I may still read it. I love the fact the novel was sparked by a photograph too.
A.K., I would love to hear your reaction to the book if you decide to read it. I also loved that the story was sparked by a photo.
The book sounds very interesting — but I’m torn about reading it. I saw a play off-Broadway almost 20 years about the trial of Oscar Wilde which was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. A couple of weeks ago I was coming out of another play and saw the star of the Wilde play in the lobby. He’s Michael Emerson who is now a co-start of the popular TV show “Person of Interest.” When I approached him he thought I wanted to compliment him on that show (which I do like) but he was very pleased that I remembered his performance in the Wilde play.
Jeanette: I’m now determined to learn more about Oscar Wilde and his works after seeing how readers have reacted to this review. Plus, Paulette’s references to Wilde’s case both in and out of the book have whetted my appetite as well. I know I saw Rupert Everett’s film The Importance of Being Earnest when it came out, but I can’t recall all the specifics and feel like watching it again.
I applaud the fact that Paulette and Jeri were very level headed in dealing with their disagreements. I see they are both friends, they respect each other, and they probably want to leave it at that. However, I can’t help being the gadfly here and point out the obvious. It is very irregular for an author to show up at a reviewer’s website and provide a rebuttal for a review. This is so much so when said author engages in a display of the credentials of the other people that have reviewed her book: professors of literature, many (sic) “professional people”, large scale press, editorial writer, mainstream national magazine editor, etc. Sorry, but this makes me less likely to read her book.
Rolando: Not to belabor the point, but I will point out my M.A. in English and experience teaching at the college level keeps me confident that I wrote a fair review 🙂 Not all reviewers use the same criteria, or even have criteria which are set in stone and accessible for all to see. When I read, I am very much looking at how all the elements of craft come together to effect my experience as a reader.
I just received Jeri’s newsletter and came back here to catch up. Rolando: I read what you wrote and actually agree. This is the first and last time I will do that. I even wrote to Jeri and told her to please delete my comment if it left like I was coming to her “home” and overstepping and she chose to keep it on. She’s a gracious lovely host.
I let my emotions get in the way and spoke out when I should have left well enough alone. It didn’t sit right with me and I’m more than willing to step forth and be honest about my human emotion and reaction. So, for anyone that my overstepping here was disagreeable, my apologies.
Jeri: you gave me your time, an honest review, which is what I asked for and I thank you again.
I have learned from this experience.
I appreciate your comment Paulette. I am no stranger to allowing my emotions gain the upper hand sometimes, so I understand what you wrote. Your post is a good example of the quality of the discourse we should have with each other. I have been to other websites where the comment section is nothing but the written equivalent of shouting matches and that is sad. Jeri’s site stands out for its professionalism and civility. It is a place where we can agree to disagree within a framework of mutual respect, and that is very important.