Friday, May 16, 2008
This book was initially bewildering. Sally Gunning begins her book in a style that at first made me believe it was a work written for juveniles. She introduces Alice, a seven year old girl who is about to embark on a sea voyage from London to the colonies to begin a new life with her family. The tone and style of the writing brought to mind a young adult novel. Her choice of words assumed an air of being pared down for a younger reading audience, and the narrative style was constrained. After getting past the first chapter, it became clear that the previous chapter was meant to infer that it was written as if in Alice's seven year old perspective. I thought that this was hindering, and not very adeptly done. In my opinion, it would have been better to use one writing style continuously throughout the book. The ultimate effect was that it was jarring, and I had a hard time getting into the story as a result.
After a wretched sea voyage, in which most of her family dies, Alice is deposited on the shores of New England only to be sold to a stranger in indentured servitude by her father, who apparently didn't have enough money for the family's voyage. Alice is whisked away to the Morton household to begin her service. The book glosses over the several years that Alice gives her service to the family, who is kind to her and treats her as if she is one of them. When the older Morton daughter, Nabby, marries, Alice's indenture contract is given to Nabby's husband, and there begins Alice's strife and struggles. When Alice sees the confusion of the new household and the devastation that settles at her feet, she runs away from her new station. In her escape, she meets the Widow Barry and a man named Eban Freeman who help her and give her refuge from her misfortune. Alice, however, is hiding a secret. This secret threatens to destroy her new found life, and puts her at odds with everyone around her. As the novel progresses, Alice's problems become multiplied and she is caught in a web of deceit and danger. Alice must face extreme adversity with only the widow and Freeman at her side.
One pleasant aspect of the book was the amount of historical period detail that was given. Though it wasn't filled with minutiae, it was very informative and interesting as a whole. On the other side of the coin, I found the sub-plot involving the boycott of British products and it's political ramifications to be a dull plot contrivance. It wasn't detailed enough to be meaningful or historically informative. I believe that it detracted from other elements in the story that could have been delved into further.
Another flaw in the book was the lack of growth in Alice's character. She remained suspicious and manipulative throughout the story, and used such ill judgment at times that it was frustrating to behold. Although I can understand that her circumstances and experiences led her to behave this way, she never seemed to revise her opinion that everyone around her was a secret enemy, waiting to betray her, regardless of how kindly they treated her. It was most aggravating to see her mind work out the most negative conclusions to every trial she faced, though the hope in her situations was plain to see. I felt as though she remained closed-minded and wary to the detriment of further emotional exploration within herself.
The other characters in the book seemed very two-dimensional. The widow was mostly quiet and taciturn, and it was hard to gauge the love for Alice that prompted her to want help the young girl. It was obvious that she came to love Alice, but what were her motivations for that love, where had her love for the girl originated? Freeman was only slightly more understandable. It was clear that he was suspicious of Alice, as she was of him, but in time he began to see Alice from a different perspective. What was not clear was why he continued to trust and respect her as she went along betraying him time after time. Even in the conclusion of the book, Alice continues to act dishonestly and rashly, and he meekly forgives her without a word of dissent. Why?? I just didn't understand the reasoning behind his forgiveness and love.
Though I had many problems with this book, I was amazed at how involving it actually was. I felt compelled to keep reading and discover what fate held in store for Alice, and what she would do with it. I think most of the problems for me came in the execution of the book, as the plot was very interesting and fluid, whereas the style and character development fell flat. I wanted to love this book. In the end I only liked it.