You won't find the women in Faith Sullivan's new novel wringing their hands and moaning What's a woman to do? Sullivan turns that phrase on its edge and renders it a call for action in the title of her latest novel, What a Woman Must Do.
But life doesn't always neatly dictate where duty lies. Kate, Harriet, and Bess, Sullivan's trio of related main characters, struggle inwardly with their personal dilemmas. Each knows her actions will affect the others, and their choices, though individual and honest, are not made easily.
Bess, the youngest, has been raised by her aunts and yearns for adventure beyond the streets of Harvester, Minnesota. But just before she is to leave for college, Bess risks her future by falling for a local married man. Harriet is the middle-aged cousin who wants desperately to have a home of her own, and though it may mean losing her beloved Bess's approval, she goes to the Dakota dance hall to kick up her heels with a widowed farmer. And then there's the aging but spirited Kate, fighting with ghosts from the past and reproaching herself for things she should have done as a woman despite her fears and the conventions of her youth.
Though separated by generational differences, each cares deeply for the other, for regaining and maintaining their family's respectability, and for the men they come to love. But it is Kate's fervent longing for the farm she has lost, her love for the land she once lived with so intimately, that becomes the narrative's overriding passion and its idyllic backdrop. Heaven will be a farm, she tells herself. And we will own it outright. Sullivan uses a condensed time frame a mere three days and like a play, the story moves swiftly through its web of conflicts to its crisis. A variety of techniques flesh out the characters and bring the past into relevancy with the present; flashbacks, dreams, and Kate's ability to conjure her beloved farm to the point where she is not simply imagining, but there, give us insight into the characters' motivations.
If you are looking for an intriguing tale of love and relationships mixed with distinctive female characters and a dash of family scandal, get Faith Sullivan's new book and find out What a Woman Must Do.
Linda Stankard writes from Cookeville, Tennessee.