Disclaimer: Everything She Didn’t Say, by Jane Kirkpatrick, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
In 1911, Carrie Strahorn wrote a memoir sharing some of the most exciting events of twenty-five years of shaping the American West with her husband, railroad promoter and writer Robert Strahorn. Nearly ten years later, she’s finally ready to reveal the secrets she hadn’t told anyone—even herself. Certain that her writings will be found only after her death, Carrie confronts the pain and disappointment of the pioneering life with startling honesty. She explores the danger a woman faces of losing herself within a relationship with a strong-willed man. She reaches for the courage to accept her own worth. Most of all she wonders, Can she ever feel truly at home in this rootless life?
My experience with Jane Kirkpatrick has been similar for each book I’ve read of hers: appreciation for the historical research, but boredom with the overall storyline. As I mentioned in my review of The Road We Traveled, “there were parts of the book where I went “Hmm, this is interesting,” and then there were more parts where I wondered when the book would be over.” I really don’t understand how a book could be so carefully researched, yet falter in terms of pace and holding the reader’s attention entirely. Or perhaps I simply really don’t like books that just meander through someone’s life (as I’ve also mentioned in my previous Kirkpatrick reviews).
The format of the book was very confusing to me. Obviously, the excerpts at the end of each chapter are from Carrie Strahorn’s actual memoir, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage. Yet, there are also journal entries at the beginning of each chapter—are these Carrie’s actual journals, or things made up by Kirkpatrick so the reader knows what year it is? I also had issues with what I must assume are severe creative liberties on the part of Kirkpatrick—she is filling in the gaps only with what she thinks is true, based off of the few things we have about Carrie. And I get that this is historical fiction, not biography, but the picture built of Carrie, of this strong woman who managed to hold her own and carve her own path despite her husband’s domineering nature, is a fictionalized picture. Were any of the thoughts and feelings in this book part of the real Carrie Strahorn? I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t think so highly of context and accuracy.
Everything We Didn’t Say is a good look at a woman I knew nothing about, who helped pave the way in the West along with her husband, Robert Strahorn. This Carrie is a good model, and there are many points in this book ripe for discussion, but I left the book without a solid idea of what the true Carrie was really like. In true Kirkpatrick style, the research was great, the actual grip and hook of the book…not so much. I would enjoy her so much more if she was just a little more exciting as a writer, though I suppose that’s the draw—she documents more aspects of someone’s life than simply the “exciting” parts. I just wish, in this case, there was more of a clear idea that she was actually crafting a true representation.
Disclaimer: The Road We Traveled, by Jane Kirkpatrick, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.
Tabitha Brown refuses to be left behind in Missouri when her son makes the decision to strike out for Oregon—even if she has to hire her own wagon to join the party. After all, family ties are stronger than fear. Along with her reluctant daughter and her ever-hopeful granddaughter, the intrepid Tabitha has her misgivings. The trials they face along the way will severely test her faith, courage, and ability to hope. With her family’s survival on the line, she must make the ultimate sacrifice, plunging deeper into the wilderness to seek aid. What she couldn’t know was how this frightening journey would impact how she understood her own life—and the greater part she had to play in history.
Jane Kirkpatrick composes a faithful, detailed account of the “Mother of Oregon” in The Road We Traveled, depicting Tabitha Moffat Brown’s journey from Missouri to Oregon on the Oregon/Applegate Trail. The attention to historical accuracy and detail is wonderful and, as with the last book by Kirkpatrick I read (The Memory Weaver), I’m impressed and pleased at the research that went into this book. You can tell the book was lovingly crafted in order to pay tribute to a woman from history that many people probably do not know about.
However, all the lovely historical detail aside, The Road We Traveled is an uneven mess of a book. Perhaps “mess” is too harsh of a word. I’ll put it this way: there were parts of the book where I went “Hmm, this is interesting,” and then there were more parts where I wondered when the book would be over—especially towards the end, where so much time passed in so few pages that I ended up confused and detached from the book. So much was crammed into the end that I had trouble following along.
I do like the characters, for the most part, though Virgilia gets the short end of the stick, in my opinion. I do like the setting. But the pace of the book ruined it for me. It started out slow, then got mildly interesting, then trudged along with the wagons on the Oregon Trail, then finished in one large rush, dumping ten or so years of time into thirty or so pages right at the end. I think, as I mentioned in my review of The Memory Weaver, that this style of book is not really my cup of tea. I don’t particularly like stories that stretch across years of a person’s life because they often feel rushed and I don’t feel as connected with the character. I’d rather read, say, the fantastic Dear America account of the Oregon Trail (Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie) than this novel.
I appreciate The Road We Traveled for its historical detail, its wealth of research apparent in the pages, and its information on a little-known (to me, anyway, and probably to a lot of people) woman in history who went on the Oregon Trail when she was in her sixties and then founded a school. However, the style of the book itself, and other aspects such as its pacing, made it less than memorable and more than a little boring, and even confusing, to read.
Disclaimer: The Memory Weaver, by Jane Kirkpatrick, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.
Eliza Spalding Warren was just a child when she was taken hostage by the Cayuse Indians during a massacre in 1847. Now a mother of two, Eliza faces a new kind of dislocation her impulsive husband wants to make a new start in another territory, which will mean leaving her beloved home and her mother’s grave—and returning to the land of her captivity. Haunted by memories and hounded by struggle, Eliza longs to know how her mother dealt with the trauma of their ordeal. As she searches the pages of her mother’s diary, Eliza is stunned to find that her own recollections tell only part of the story.
The Memory Weaver is based off of the true events of the Whitman massacre when a party of Cayuse and Umatilla murdered the missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and eleven others. Eliza Spalding Warren, the heroine of the novel, was a hostage of the Native Americans for a month and served as a translator at the tender age of ten. The author’s note at the end describes the tremendous amount of research Kirkpatrick put into the novel, and also shows her willingness to admit when she goes off the path of what history knows. Basically, The Memory Weaver is like a reimagining or an exploration of what Eliza Spalding Warren could have felt after surviving such a traumatic experience.
Kirkpatrick treats both sides of the matter evenly, showing and hinting at as many possible reasons for the massacre as possible, not placing the blame squarely on either the Cayuse or the missionaries but giving everything the same compassionate, open-ended look. I appreciated that Kirkpatrick tried to remain as objective as possible while dealing with such a complex, traumatic issue.
However, good showing of history and even-handedness aside, I did find The Memory Weaver a little boring. It was interesting in parts, but the format of it was not really my cup of tea. I’ve never gotten as into books that take place across years of someone’s life; I just prefer those that focus on a smaller period of time. So the broad coverage of twenty or so years of Eliza Warren’s life did not appeal to me as much, and thus I found the book a little tedious and boring.
I also thought that The Memory Weaver wasn’t incredibly substantial or memorable. I finished the book with a “So what?” on my lips, and maybe not everybody had that same question or maybe I’m missing something, but I felt that the book lacks a deeper meaning, something to really make it resonate. As it stands, it’s a good imagining of an historical event—but that’s all it is.