Thursday, December 16, 2010

THURSDAY- GOLDEN OLDIES: The Believers by Janice Holt Giles

Janice Holt Giles is one of the grand old dames of Kentucky literature, having written numerous novels about Kentuckians of the past.

In The Believers, young Rebecca Fowler marries her childhood sweetheart, Richard Cooper, and expects that she will live happily ever after. She adores Richard and he is devoted to her. Unfortunately, she gives birth to a stillborn child, and Richard is unable to come to grips with the loss. Convinced they are being punished by God, he looks to the new Shaker religion and, liking what he hears, he joins their community, bringing Rebecca along. At first, stunned by what she finds, particularly the fact that men and women must lead separate lives, she expects their stay will be temporary. If Richard loves her, he, too, will decide this is not the life for them. But Richard becomes more and more wedded to the Shaker community and his only interest in her is the control he retains over her—he is her husband; therefore, she must (in his mind) do as he commands. This includes signing over the deed to their farm to the Shakers. When she refuses to do this, he considers her to be willful, stubborn, and sinful. He assumes continued enforcement of the Shaker rules will wear her down.

Rebecca clings to the tiny bit of autonomy she is able to retain as she continues her life in the community. She refuses to commit entirely to the Shakers because she is unable to accept their doctrines wholeheartedly. But how can she leave if Richard is determined to stay?

Rich in the details of late eighteenth century Kentucky living, as well as those of the Shaker community, The Believers is an engrossing tale of a strong woman caught in a situation that may remind readers of the modern-day closed religious societies that capture headlines from time to time. It is a coming-of-age story and a lovely romance. Trusting her own judgment, Rebecca must make difficult choices and defy the man she has always loved. Two caveats. It is a bit heavy on the use of dialect. Moreover, the way it deals with/portrays Rebecca’s slaves is embarrassing. Nevertheless, it’s a good book to read if you want to give Janice Holt Giles a try.

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