Friday, August 24, 2012

The Violet Season - Kathy Leonard Czepiel

Summary:  The violet industry is booming in 1898, and a Hudson Valley farm owned by the Fletcher family is turning a generous profit for its two oldest brothers.  But Ida Fletcher, married to the black sheep youngest brother, has taken up wet nursing to help pay the bills, and her daughter, Alice, has left school to work.  As they risk losing their share of the farm, the two women make increasingly great sacrifices for their family survival, sacrifices that will set them against each other in a lifelong struggle for honesty - and forgiveness.  A Violet Season is the story of an unforgettable mother-daughter journey in a time when women were just waking to their own power and independence.  (Summary from book - Image from - Book given free for an honest revew )

My Review:  
A Violet Season is a brilliantly rendered debut novel, rich in historical detail, that tells of a family struggling to secure their livelihood in the booming violet industry of the late 1800s.  Ida Fletcher, wife to Frank and mother of four, is a reluctant wet nurse; forced to nourish, love, and then relinquish the children of others so that she might help repay her husband’s sizable debt. 

Ida’s story, and that of her sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice, is an intricate exploration of women’s rights  in a time when a woman was still considered the property of her husband or father, and entirely subject to his whims and control.  As time wore on, women slowly began to defy traditional gender roles and deigned to do more than what they were told.  Similarly, as the story progresses, both Ida and Alice strain against societal mores that hold them in place and eventually take steps to redefine their own lives.   

All Ida’s fears are confirmed when Frank returns home from a trip to town without their daughter.  Without Ida's consent, he has sent Alice to work in a factory and “earn her keep,” and refuses to provide her with more information on the matter.   At one point, Ida wonders how Frank views her, stating, “…did he even see it that way?  Did he love her enough to think of her as a person with her own feelings, capable of being betrayed?  Or had he seen her all along as a mere object in his life, a tool to be used for an express purpose: a hoe for weeding, a shovel for digging, a wife for cooking and cleaning and bearing children.  If that were true, he was capable of doing anything to her.” 

About halfway through the book, we discover the truth about Alice’s new job. I wanted to kill her father when I found out what he’d done.  I’m sure you can guess the details.  Unfortunately, the descriptions of Alice’s new life were occasionally graphic and unpleasant, and would likely bother some readers.   I wouldn’t recommend this book to every reader, but would recommend it to those who aren’t particularly sensitive to sexual content (see, sensitive reader section for details).

A Violet Season is an achingly resonant portrayal of what a mother will endure, and sacrifice, for her children.   In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best book for a post-partum, nursing mother to be reading.  While I understand Frank’s different motivations, his actions were unthinkable; it had me in tears and made me incredibly cranky!  The bitter unfairness of it all made me want to scream.  It’s a good thing my husband wasn’t home when I was reading because I’d have torn his head off if he’d so much as asked me what was for dinner.   Above all, I felt an overpowering sense of frustration and sadness for the real women who were trapped in such a state of inequality. 

Any novel that can overwhelm your emotions  – make you want to scream, cry, and contemplate the various ways you might be able to kill fictonal characters – is usually a pretty good novel.  A Violet Season does all that and more. 

My Rating:  4 Stars (It would be a higher rating if I felt like I could recommend it to everyone.)

For the sensitive reader:  Some sexual dialogue and sexual situations.  One or two instances of profanity.  One disgustingly graphic scene of male masturbation.  Skip. It.

Sum it up:  Kathy Leonard Czepiel delivers a beautifully written, at times painfully frustrating, debut novel. 


Tribute Books said...

Mindy, what a well-written, heartfelt review. We cannot thank you enough!

Kathy Czepiel said...

My warmest thanks for a thoughtful and passionate review of 'A Violet Season.' Mindy, I wish you all the best with your new baby. A friend who is a nursing mother also found the novel pretty intense! I haven't been there for a decade now, but I was definitely writing from the experience of having been a nursing mother, too.

MindySue said...

Thank you, Kathy!


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