Slant of Light by Steve Wiegenstein

Title: Slant of Light: A Novel of Utopian Dreams and Civil War
Author: Steve Wiegenstein

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Pre-Civil War / Missouri / Communes / Utopia Movement / Abolition / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Blank Slate Press (4/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked to loved.
Did I finish?: I did -- it was so compelling.
One-sentence summary: In the years before the Civil War, an idealist establishes a commune in Missouri and the direction of his plans affects himself, his wife, and the residents of his commune.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's rather pretty and has a nice design, and it's refreshing to see a hist fic without a costumed woman on the cover. There's a theme of plants, seedlings, and clippings in the story, too, so the botanical image is super appropriate.

I'm reminded of...: Sally Gunning, Ann Weisgarber, Jenny Wingfield

First line: The keelboat moved so slowly against the current that Turner sometimes wondered if they were moving at all.

Do... I love that the book's title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem?: YES. Emily Dickinson wins no matter what, but the poem in particular is breath-takingly pretty.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, this is such a unique historical novel: pre-Civil War setting, utopia movement, abolition...

Why did I get this book?: It was a unique-to-me setting for hist fic, unlike my usual fare, and I was immediately intrigued.

Review: This was a fantastically great book. I rarely read historical fiction set around the Civil War, and this book's time span -- 1857 - 1862 -- was unique, fascinating, and compelling. Wiegenstein's writing is vibrant and engrossing, his characters uncomfortably real, and I was immediately plunged into a time and world that frightened and fascinated me.

James Turner is a philosopher and itinerant lecturer who wrote a utopian novel called Daybreak that inspired a Missouri man to donate land in hopes of establishing a real life Daybreak. Turner's new bride, Charlotte, eager to escape a sad home and embark on something promising, rushes to join Turner in the Missouri Ozarks. A Harvard-educated abolitionist, Adam Cabot, recently tarred and feathered in Kansas for his anti-slavery work, decides to join the community as well, and these three characters provide the frame for the story. But the secondary characters are just as compelling and fleshed out -- the other residents who decide to join Daybreak, the suspicious neighbors who are uneasy with the commune -- and I felt like I knew everyone.

I will admit that the love triangle-ish-ness was my least favorite part of the story, but I've got some weird hangup about infidelity that I kind of think I need to explore in therapy or something. (Seriously -- I've not been affected by infidelity myself and I used to love hot torrid affairs in my novels but now just a whiff of cheating makes my stomach hurt!) Regardless, the love triangle wasn't the focus of the story, really, and it served to provoke some great mental debate about ethics, ideals, and obligations.

Wiegenstein's writing style is straight-forward, evocative but not flowery. I was lost to the world every time I picked up this book and I didn't want it to end. Even if you're not a historical fiction fan, consider picking up this novel -- this is a philosophical armchair escape that is grounded, accessible, and real.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Slant of Light to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 6/1.

Comments

  1. Would love to read it. Lomazowr@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rhonda -- be sure to fill out the form to enter -- this is definitely one you want to win! ;)

      Delete
  2. Fantastic review! I'm so glad you enjoyed the book; it sounds like a really unique premise. Thanks so much for being on the tour!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa -- thank you so much for squeezing me in -- what a treat of a book! I would have been heartbroken to miss it!

      Delete
  3. I have not heard of this one, but I really enjoy the premise and Emily Dickinson poems...I just love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Serena, I immediately thought of you and Anna when reading this one -- the tensions with idealism vs realism, obligation, aspiration -- so many themes I think you two would really dig.

      Delete
  4. I haven't read many books set during the Civil War, and can only think of one, really. It sounds like this one was just such a fascinating read, and your recommendation really sways me. I would love to give this one a try. It has a lot of elements that intrigue me. I love that cover as well. Great review today!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heather -- this was a stunning one -- the setting was great, the writing just spot-on, and the characters compelling. I do hope this one gets some more buzz as it's quite good!

      Delete
  5. OMG, historical fiction about a utopia!!! They're usually so hard to find. Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And it's so worth it. Of course, it's also about how utopias can go wrong -- not in a dystopic sense, but in the sort of examination of realism vs idealism. Delightfully well done!

      Delete
  6. Audra, thanks so much for your generous words. I appreciate them very much! And readers, if your organization or book group would like to do a Q & A, a Skype chat, or an in-person appearance (if you're nearby), I'm delighted to accommodate.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ooh...this one sounds so interesting too! I'm fascinated by the Civil War and American historical fiction, so this one is right up my alley.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This book sounds fascinating. You have a real knack for finding some very compelling, intriguing books, Audra. I am a little picky about historical fiction but your terrific review and enthusiasm for this book have me hooked. I love that so many of the characters are real to the readers and the time period is one I haven't read much about either.
    Another wonderful, enjoyable review! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy, do give this one a try -- the unusual setting and premise coupled with the super vibrant characters made this a standout read. Really wonderful -- I think this could be hist fic for those who aren't wild about hist fic -- very different than the Tuder/royalty fic that is so common.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Winter 2017 Bloggiesta To Do Post

"Someone's come in and killed Father!": An interview with Erika Mailman

Mood Ring Recommendations: Feeling...Indecisive

Creepy kids are creepy, especially when they ought to know better...