Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review: "The Girl on the Mountain" by Carol Ervin

It's 1899, and May Rose Long has just been abandoned by her husband in the mountains of West Virginia. Isolated from the logging town of Winkler and ostracized by the townspeople due to rumors of indecent behavior; May Rose tries desperately to connect with her family that headed West to Fargo, North Dakota.

Ervin is capable of creating a story around May Rose that is surprisingly entertaining and revealing of the position of women in society during this time in history. May Rose is known as the Girl on the Mountain because she is accused of standing naked and waving at the train of logging men as they passed her house every day. The rumor is the catalyst for everything that happens in the story, including her husband's disappearance. But May Rose was far from happily married, and while her husband kept her secluded from the town, buying the cabin with her dowry, she had only herself to rely upon most of the time while he stayed in the logging camp.

Ervin captures the grueling details of May Rose's survival and shows a vast knowledge of what mountain life consists of in the late 19th century. I was able to get a real feel for the setting and loved the descriptions of May Rose's different labors; from gardening to raising hogs and washing clothes. When May Rose's husband does not come home and she finds out what happened to him, a new part of her character opens up. We discover she's an intelligent woman and quite capable of forging her way into town and coming up with her own plan of survival.

Of course, none of this would be as interesting without some additional characters to entertain the readers since May Rose is just a little too good and a bit dull, despite her intellectual capacity. May Rose takes on the responsibility of looking after her husband's illegitimate child, Wanda, who is wild and hard headed. Wanda keeps May Rose on her toes and creates a juxstaposition to May Rose's Victorian and rigid ideas of etiquette. Then there's Hester, who runs the boarding house that May Rose ends up lodging in. Hester becomes a convenient ally, for it's her brother who manages the Winkler Logging Company and helps place May Rose in employment.

However, May Rose must carefully navigate every favor bestowed upon her, because without a husband, she is vulnerable. She redeems herself in the eyes of most of the town folk who heard the rumors about her, but there are still many residents who want to either harm her or take advantage of her. She has to trust her gut and keep her wits about her, which elevates her in my opinion.

Despite how she is initially received by the town, May Rose forges a type of family from the friends she gains. This family looks out for her and helps her in many situations that would have cast her even further down in society. The men in this story are depicted as inferior, almost savage and predatory without much depth beyond work, drink, violence and whoring.

I listened to this on Audible, and while the production quality pitched every now and again, I thought the delivery worked well and the narrator sold me on May Rose. The book was entertaining, but definitely for readers who are interested in the history of Appalachia, and aren't too concerned with a plot that seems to wander a bit at times or characters that are endearing, but not entirely flushed out in their complexity.

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