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Old Economy and Al’s Family History

Al and I spent a delightful Saturday last week at Old Economy Village, for Erntedank Fest, a German Thanksgiving harvest festival. We enjoyed the beautiful gardens, the German food, and the high-quality vendor booths. We ended up spending a lot more money than we usually do at craft fairs!

But this was far from our first trip to Old Economy. We got married in the garden forty years ago, and Al’s family has roots there, through his paternal grandmother’s line.

Christian and Amy Loeffler

Christian Loeffler emigrated to the United States from Stuttgart, Germany in the mid-nineteenth century, along with his mother, Margaret. He married Amy Hazen and initially settled on property in Beaver County that belonged to her family. Christian was a stonecutter who did work for the Fort Wayne Railroad and for the Harmonist Society at Old Economy. He and Amy had six children before he died in a work accident in 1862.

Christian and Amy had been living with Margaret at the time of his accident. Apparently, the young widow became more interested in finding new male companionship than in caring for her children. Margaret struggled to care for them while working at the tavern that she owned. And she worried about how her grandchildren would fare if she died. She had connections with the Harmonist Society through relatives, and so she placed the children in their care. The six children were Joseph, Franklin, Christian, Benjamin, Rosina and Charles.

Franklin Pierce Loeffler and His Descendants

Franklin was Al’s great-grandfather. A harmonist family raised him, and he received schooling through the sixth grade. He then served apprenticeships in both shoemaking and cabinet-making. He also learned music and played in the first Economy Band and later the Beaver Falls Coronet Band.

As they became adults, the six Loeffler children all married and left the celibate Harmonist sect. Family lore says that the Harmonists loved the children, and sent them on their way with enough household goods to start their lives. In a published autobiography one of the Harmonists, John Duss, he mentions the children. He wrote, “The Loefflers were all above average in intelligence and ability, all good-looking.”

More than a century later, Al’s father, volunteered at Old Economy for many years in the cabinet shop, doing repairs and teaching cabinet-making. Al’s sister worked as a docent there for several years. The docents that we met on Saturday were delighted to meet a Harmonist descendant. Some of them fondly remembered Al’s father.

Al and Kathy Bashaar (that’s us!)

For us, of course, our afternoon at Old Economy brought back happy memories of our wedding day. In a future blog post, I will write more about the Harmonist Society and Old Economy. But I wanted to tell this more personal history first.

Like the Loeffler children, I lost my father at a young age. Revisiting this old family story made me think a lot about the differences between my experience and the Loefflers’. First, I had a mother who did put her children first and had zero interest in new male companionship.

But I also want to emphasize here that my mother had better choices than poor Amy Loeffler did. Mom received about $6000 a month (in 2023 dollar, about $800 in the early 1970s) in Social Security Survivors Benefits. Combined with her salary from a secretarial job, that allowed her to keep us fed and hang on to the family home. She didn’t face the painful choice of living with her mother-in-law or finding a new man willing to take on her children. You will never hear me complain about government social spending, because I know what it can mean to a family.

And how about Margaret just handing those kids off to the Harmonists? Imagine trying to do that today! Amy would be all over her mother-in-law with lawsuits! But I don’t blame Margaret, either. I can imagine her exhaustion, trying to run her tavern and care for six grandchildren, all while grieving her son. And she knew she wouldn’t live forever. In fact, she did die about four years after Christian. She did what she thought would be good for the children in the long run. It must have been very hard. I hope she visited them when she could, or heard of their health and progress via letters. I hope she’d be glad to know that her descendants remained devoted to the Society that took in her grandchildren.


Only one source for this post. I am indebted to my late mother-in-law, Katherine Schuring Bashaar, for the thorough family history that she wrote of both sides of Al’s family. And she did it back in the 1970s and 80s, when there was no such thing as the internet. She did it the old fashioned way: lots of trips to cemeteries and poring through dusty old records. Hats off to you, Muni!

Mad Anthony Wayne

Was Mad Anthony Wayne truly mad? Not really. He just had a fiery temper. But legend has it that his ghost still haunts the state of Pennsylvania, where he was born, died, and became the father of the professional U.S. Army.

Wayne had pretty ordinary beginnings. Born in Paoli, PA, on January 1, 1745, he had only two years of education at an uncle’s academy in Philadelphia. In 1765, he worked for a year in Nova Scotia as a surveyor and agent for a land company. When the American Revolution broke out, he was working as a tanner and serving part-time in the Pennsylvania state legislature.

The American Revolution

In January of 1776, barely aged 21, Wayne assembled a militia and received an appointment as a colonel in the Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion of the Continental Army. He participated in the Army’s unsuccessful invasion of Canada later that year, successfully executing a rear-guard action at the Battle of Trois-Rivieres. Wayne also saw action at Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. He protected Washington’s right flank in the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, and endured the brutal winter at Valley Forge. In the Battle of Monmouth, Wayne’s forces held out against a larger British force after General Charles Lee abandoned them.

Wayne’s finest hour as a commander was probably the Battle of Stony Point. He personally led a nighttime bayonet attack, and his columns stormed and captured the British fortification. Although the victory was more a morale boost than a strategic triumph, the Continental Congress awarded Wayne a medal for his courage and leadership.

Even after the British surrender at Yorktown, Wayne continued to serve his country. He helped disband the British alliance with Indian tribes in Georgia, and negotiated peace treaties with native tribes. After the war, he received a belated promotion to Major General and retired to a plantation in Georgia, seized from a loyalist and awarded to him for his service.

The Legion of the United States

This is the site of Legionville, near Baden, about a quarter mile from the Ohio River. Logstown, the Indian town that once stood here, burned in 1754. An Indian burial ground lies nearby.

In 1791, Washington called Wayne back into service. After Arthur St. Clair’s disastrous rout in Ohio, the President realized that he needed a general who could build a disciplined army, and Wayne had earned a reputation for both strict discipline and for seeing to the comfort and well-being of his troops. Wayne established a training camp at Legionville, near present day Baden and Ambridge, and spent the winter of 1791-2 turning a few thousand remnants of the Continental Army and some recruits from Pittsburgh into a formidable fighting force: the Legion of the United States.  

Modern historians rightly point out that Wayne’s subsequent successful campaign in the West was one of many steps in the European genocide of the natives of North America. And that he owned slaves. As it happens, he was a less successful slavedriver than general. He went into debt buying enslaved people to work his Georgia plantation, and ended up bankrupt.

Weirdest Death Ever

Here’s Mad Anthony’s gravesite. Well, one of them . . .

But his death is the strangest part of Wayne’s colorful life story. Wayne’s rival for the position of General of the Legion, James Wilkinson, did not accept defeat gracefully. Wilkinson went out of his way to undermine Wayne and spread gossip about him. When Wayne received intelligence that Wilkinson was being paid as a spy for Spain, he began proceedings to court-martial him. But the court martial never happened. Wayne died on December 15, 1796. Some sources say he died of gout, others say a stomach ulcer. Rumors abounded at the time that Wilkinson had had him murdered. Wilkinson’s career as a spy wasn’t confirmed until 1854, almost forty years after his death.

But the story of Wayne’s death gets even weirder than that. After his death, Wayne was buried at Fort Presque Isle, near present-day Erie, PA. In 1809, his son, Isaac Wayne decided to disinter the body and move it nearer the family home in Wayne, PA. Imagine his surprise when he found the thirteen-year-old corpse in an astonishingly good state of preservation. A local doctor, James Wallace suggested boiling the body to separate the flesh from the bone, and then transporting the bones. Wayne’s flesh and clothing were reburied at Presque Isle, and the bones taken on the 400-mile journey to Wayne, PA.

Oh, wait, though, the weirdness isn’t even finished. When he arrived home, Isaac realized that he was missing some bones. They had apparently fallen out of the wagon along the way. So, Wayne is buried not in one grave, nor in two, but in a 400-mile trail of a grave.

Unsurprisingly, given the bizarre circumstances, legends abound that General Mad Anthony Wayne’s ghost haunts the state of Pennsylvania to this day, rising every New Year’s morning to ride the roads between St. David’s Episcopal Church in Wayne, PA, all the way to Erie, searching for his lost bones.


As I guess befits a man who is both a ghost and a war hero, and also has a problematic history as a perpetrator of both slavery and genocide, Wayne has several taverns named after him. There’s Mad Anthony Wayne Café, in Wayne, PA, General Wayne Inn in Merion, Pa, and Mad Anthony’s Taproom & Restaurant in Waynesville, NC. There are Mad Anthony Brewing Company locations in Fort Wayne, Auburn and Warsaw, IN. From 1950 until the 1990s, there was a Mad Anthony’s Bier Stube at 1233 Merchant St., in Ambridge, PA, a sniper’s bullet away from where he trained the Legion of the United States 230 years ago.


The National World War Two Museum

Al lost a 101-year-old friend during Covid. I didn’t even know the guy and I cried during his remote memorial service. He was a veteran of both the CCC and World War Two, a member of what we call the Greatest Generation. If you don’t know how they got that name, I recommend a visit to the National World War Two Museum in New Orleans.

I usually confine my blog posts to books and local history. But Al and I spent a few days in New Orleans recently and were just blown away by the WWII museum there.

Entering the Museum

Before you even enter the museum, it tugs at your heartstrings. Near the entrance stands a statue of Anne Frank, to remind you of the kind of evil the Greatest Generation had to confront. Near the Frank statue is a statuary tableau of a group of pilots preparing for a bombing run.

They look so young, and yet seasoned and tough in a way that nobody under thirty should ever look. The average WWII fighter pilot was only twenty-two years old. Fewer than half of them lived to see the end of the war.

The massive museum consists of five buildings. You could see the highlights in half a day, although you need a full day to really do it justice. And Al is such a history fanatic that we could have spent a second day there.  I recommend buying both the general admission ticket and the extra-cost ticket for the Beyond All Boundaries 4D Experience.

Beyond All Boundaries

Beyond All Boundaries is not to be missed. As advertised, it is an immersive experience of not only sound and visuals, but 3D features and sensory effects as well. For example, when bombs are exploding on the screen, your seat will shake as if you are right in the middle of the bombing. The show provides the background of the war and the events leading to it. It frankly discusses initial American reluctance to join the fight, even after Germany invaded Poland and France and began bombing Great Britain. It then gives and overview of the war itself, including the importance of the home front.

The tone of Beyond All Boundaries is unabashedly patriotic. It portrays the war as a battle of democracies versus autocracies, America as the savior of the free world, and our WWII generation as legendary heroes and heroines. The exhibits in the rest of the museum touch lightly on some of the more complex moral aspects of the war. But the overall approach of the museum is to portray inspiring heroism. Honestly, I really liked that.

Other Museum Highlights

Like most modern museums, the WWII strives to be interactive. After you purchase your ticket, you board a train where you receive a dog tag card. Your card is coded with the name of a WWII participant. You can tap it on many exhibits in the museum, to find out whether your participant was part of the exhibit’s subject, and what he or she was doing. I got Sgt. John Basilone, who earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Gaudalcanal and was killed at Iwo Jima after additional acts of superhuman courage.

The whole story of the war is told in multi-media exhibits that allow the visitor to take in as much or as little detail as desired. Many artifacts are on display. There are also video exhibits from the war era, and built environments that let you wander through reproductions of some of the war’s scenes. I especially liked the Battle of the Bulge winter forest.

Planes, Planes, Planes

The museum owns and displays acres of decommissioned military vehicles, particularly aircraft. Al loves that stuff, so he was in heaven. Me, not so much. I get pretty bored just looking at airplanes. They all look the same to me.

My favorite part was in building five, the Freedom Pavilion. There, I found an interactive display that presents the visitor with real moral dilemmas from the war. For example, you are the commander of Allied forces planning for D-Day. If you bomb railyards as well as rail lines and bridges, you increase your chances of a successful invasion, but you will cause more civilian casualties. What would you do? What did previous visitors say they’d do? And what did the real decision-maker do? I could have played that game all day. But the museum was getting ready to close, and Al had already taken about a hundred pictures of airplanes, so it was time to go.

Definitely don’t miss this museum if you are in New Orleans. And don’t worry if you’re with someone who will spend the whole day there. They have a cafeteria called the American Sector, which provides good food, alcoholic refreshment, and period music.

For more information about the museum, check out their website.

Henry VIII’s Wives Ranked

Henry VIII feels, in many ways, like the Donald Trump of his time. In his youth, he was a rich, handsome, carefree young man about town who discarded wives as frequently as he changed his doublet.

In old age, he grew moody and cruel, yet still saw himself as a charming, attractive rogue. Everyone around him had to indulge him if they hoped to keep their heads on their shoulders.

He divorced two wives, beheaded two more, and another died giving birth to his only son. Only two wives outlived him. Of his six wives, some shine brighter than others. As an avid reader of historical fiction, I have some pretty strong – and admittedly only partially informed – opinions about that. And so, for entertainment purposes only, I give you Henry VIII’s Wives Ranked.

Worst: Anne Boleyn (Wife #2)

Since I am an Episcopalian, I suppose I should thank her. Henry founded the Church of England just so he could marry her.

The Boleyns were an ambitious family. Anne’s sister, Mary, was Henry’s mistress first – while married to a minor noble at his court. Anne came to court later and caused a sensation with her regal carriage, graceful dancing and fashionable French clothes. Contemporaries also noted her as intelligent and charming.

When Anne came to court in 1526, Henry had been married for seventeen years to Catherine of Aragon, and she had produced only one living child, a daughter. Henry had one acknowledged illegitimate son, and probably several others. But he needed a legitimate son to take the throne after him, and Catherine was getting past childbearing age.

Anne, an acknowledged master of the arts of seduction, saw her opportunity. She charmed and teased Henry sexually, while refusing consummation without a wedding ring. When it became clear that the Catholic Church would refuse to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine, Anne also became very interested in Protestantism.

Did I mention that she was Catherine’s lady-in-waiting and supposed friend?

Henry and Anne married in a secret ceremony on November 14, 1532, even before the official annulment of Henry’s Marriage to Catherine. Anne soon became pregnant. But, like Mary, she produced only a girl, the future Queen Elizabeth. Later, she had at least one miscarriage.

Anne was vain and a spendthrift, and her marriage to Henry looked like a Jerry Springer episode, a seesaw of bliss alternating with temper tantrums. As she continued to fail at producing an heir, Henry’s eye turned towards her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour.

Rumors of Anne’s infidelity to Henry have followed her through the centuries. They may be untrue. Henry and his advisors certainly had an incentive to cook up an excuse to behead her.

But we know for sure that she broke up Henry’s marriage. And, I don’t care what church you belong to or what era you come from, it’s just wrong to steal another woman’s husband. When Henry had her beheaded so that he could marry Jane Seymour, Anne found out that “what goes around comes around.”

Second Worst: Catherine Howard (Wife #5)

Pretty little Kitty. Someone recently described her as “poor ditzy Kitty,” and that’s about right.

Like both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, she apprenticed for the job of wife to Henry VIII by serving as lady-in-waiting to his current wife (Anne of Cleves at that time). She was also a cousin to both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.

Contemporaries described Kitty as pretty, frivolous and giddy. She loved both dancing and flirting, like any pretty teenage girl. She also showed the poor judgment often associated with pretty teenage girls.

In her mid-teens, she had an affair with a much older man, which may have been abusive. A few years later, she had another affair, with Francis Dereham, and may have exchanged betrothal vows with him.

The aging Henry became besotted with Kitty almost as soon as he laid eyes on her. As soon as he could dump Anne of Cleves, the two married. And almost as soon as they were married, Kitty apparently started a love affair with one of Henry’s courtiers, Thomas Culpepper.

By this time, Henry was fifty years old. First, he had no business marrying Kitty, who was about eighteen. Second, there’s nothing more fragile than the ego of an aging Lothario. In rage, Henry had his marriage to Kitty annulled on the basis that she had been betrothed to Dereham. He also had both Dereham and Culpepper executed, on the well-known principle that One Does Not Cuckold an Aging and Egotistical Autocrat.

Finally, on February 10, 1542, poor, ditzy Kitty also lost her head on basically the same principle.

History hasn’t treated Kitty kindly. One historian described her as a “juvenile delinquent,” another as “a stupid and oversexed adolescent.” The poor little thing probably was brainless and selfish, but she was also a child, so I feel a little sorry for her.

Reluctant Homewrecker: Jane Seymour (Wife #3)

Like both Anne and Kitty, Jane caught Henry’s eye when she served as lady-in-waiting to his current wife. But, unlike them, Jane was a reluctant homewrecker. Jane apparently didn’t make a play for Henry.  Even as he began to pursue her, she maintained her chastity until marriage. But her family had great interest in the political advantages of her relationship with Henry, and did what they could behind the scenes to get Boleyn out of the way.

Contemporaries described Jane as meek and gentle, and very skilled at needlework. She treated her step-daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, with kindness and played an especially significant role in reconciling Henry with young Mary.

Jane came from a big family, so Henry had reason to believe she would be fertile. And, on October 12, 1537 – after a labor lasting two days and three nights – Jane gave birth to a baby boy, the future King Edward VI. Twelve days later, she died.

Having given him his only legitimate son, Jane ranked as Henry’s favorite wife. When Henry died, he requested to be buried next to her.

Kept Her Head: Anne of Cleves (Wife #4)

Everyone knows that a king needs not just an heir, but also a spare. Although Henry apparently grieved Jane Seymour, negotiations for his next wife began almost immediately. This time, Henry allowed himself to be persuaded by political considerations rather than by his penis. His advisors wanted an alliance with William of Cleves, a Protestant leader in western Germany, and William had an eligible sister in Anne.

Like Jane Seymour, Anne was described as gentle and skilled at needlework. She could speak a little English, but could read and write only in German.

Henry and Anne had only seen portraits of each other before she arrived in England in December 1539. Their first meeting did not go well.

The aging Henry, still seeing himself as a charming young rogue, had come up with a “meet cute” scheme. He would, in disguise, approach his bride in her chamber with an embrace, a kiss and a “token.” Naturally startled, Anne did not react well to Henry’s little surprise. And, like the petulant overgrown boy that he was, Henry felt insulted.

The two married on January 6, 1540, but never consummated their union. Henry claimed that Anne wasn’t as pretty as her portrait made her look, and it seems that she was also naïve about sexual relations. Possibly, Henry suffered from intermittent impotence by this time.

Anne agreed to an annulment in July 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation. And she came out of the marriage in much better shape than any of her predecessors. Mainly, she still had her head. Henry allowed her to keep her dower lands, and gave her a generous settlement, including at least three homes. She remained friendly with Henry and with her two step-daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. A contemporary chronicler described her as “a ladie of right commendable regards, courteous, gentle, a good housekeeper and verie bountifull to her servants.”

Second Best: Catherine of Aragon (Wife #1)

Catherine’s parents were King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile, the same Ferdinand and Isabella who financed Columbus’s 1492 journey to the Americas. As a descendant of both of the first two wives of John of Gaunt, she herself had a distant claim to the English throne. Thus, her marriage into the upstart Tudor family strengthened their legitimacy.

She first married Henry’s older brother Arthur, but he died shortly after their wedding. Henry’s desire to marry his brother’s widow was complicated by a Church ban on such a marriage.

The marriage went forward in 1509 after Catherine swore -probably falsely – that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. Henry was only eighteen. Catherine was twenty-four.

By most accounts, Henry adored Catherine, and trusted her completely. He appointed her regent when he went on military campaigns. In one of the wars with Scotland, she rode north in armor – and several months pregnant! – to encourage troops in the Midlands.

One thing that the redoubtable Catherine could not do: provide a male heir. She had at least three stillbirths between 1510 and 1514. One son, Henry, may have lived for a few hours. She produced a daughter, the future Queen Mary, in 1516. Another pregnancy ended in a stillbirth in 1518. Catherine was only 33 at the time, but she had no further known pregnancies. By 1525, Henry’s eye had turned to Anne Boleyn.

I like Catherine because she fought for her marriage and for what she believed was right. “God never called me to a nunnery,” she said, “I am the King’s true and legitimate wife.” After Henry set her aside, he held her daughter basically hostage. Catherine and Mary longed for each other’s company, but Henry had banished them both from court to separate locations. He offered to allow them to reunite only if they would acknowledge Anne Boleyn as the true queen of England. They both refused.

Catherine’s final letter to Henry, as she knew she was dying in late 1535, is poignant:

” My most dear lord, king and husband,

The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles.

For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene.”

Best and Last: Katherine Parr

Henry loved his Katherines; Parr was the third. And, in my opinion, she was Henry’s best wife.

By the time Katherine married Henry, he was well into his fifties. He was fat, suffered from both diabetes and gout, and had stinking sores on his leg from an old wound. He was cranky, mercurial, and hard to live with. Katherine didn’t want to marry him. She’d had two husbands already, and was probably already in love with her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour. But, if Henry wanted to marry you, you married him or you died.

Katherine spoke French, Latin, Italian and Spanish, in addition to English. She was a committed Protestant at a time when the country was still bitterly divided and Henry himself wavered back and forth. She wrote three books. Not some trashy memoir like you’d probably see today, but books of prayers and meditations. Her “Prayer for the King” is still in the English Book of Common Prayer. She may also have translated the Gospels into English.

Like Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, Katherine maintained loving relations with her step-daughters, the future Queens Mary and Elizabeth.

For her erudition, her kindness to her step-children and her endurance of Henry at his absolute worst, Katherine stands out to me as Henry’s most admirable wife.

Katherine Parr and Anne of Cleves were the only two wives to outlive Henry. Henry died on January 28, 1547, of complications of gout. Katherine died in childbirth on September 5, 1548. Anne died on July 16, 1557, probably of cancer.


Most of the historical facts in this post came from Wikipedia

But the stories of these fascinating queens are best brought to life in fiction. I especially enjoy Philippa Gregory’s series of books on the Tudor queens:

The Other Boleyn Girl

The Boleyn Inheritance

The Constant Princess

The Taming of the Queen

My Five-Star Reads of 2022

I had only a few five star reads this year, including an old childhood favorite, some unreliable narrators and, oddly, lots of orphans.

A Lantern in Her Hand

I started the year with a childhood favorite. I first read A Lantern in Her Hand in sixth grade, when I bought it from the TAB book catalog at school. I loved it so much that I re-read it every couple of years until I was about thirty, and it finally fell apart and had to be thrown away.

It is the story of Abbie Mackenzie Deal, who goes west with her new husband in the early 1870s, to claim a farmstead in Nebraska. Abbie loves to paint and sing, and dreamed of life as a painter or singer. She had a wealthy beau who could have provided her with the luxury of painting and singing lessons had she married him. But she fell in love with Will Deal and thereby chose a different life.

Aldrich wrote this book in 1928 for young people. Therefore, it presents that era’s romanticized view of the prairie pioneers. But I still loved it as much at age 66 as I did at 12. Abbie is such a strong female character. And I like the values that the book presents: loyalty to family, friends and community, hard work, sacrifice for the next generation. Those values are timeless.


Haven was five-star read for me, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Don’t pick it up if you like a lot of action. The story builds very slowly and quietly, and there’s lots of description of things like building a hut and hunting birds.

In seventh-century Ireland, a passionate scholar-priest, Artt, turns up at the monastery where young Trian and old Cormac are monks. Soon after his arrival, Artt has a dream in which he founds a monastery with Trian and Cormac. The monastery is to be located on an island previously innocent of human footprints. There, Artt and his two monks will make copies of the Bible and live ascetically.

The two monks feel honored to be chosen. But only the bare minimum of supplies will fit in their boat when they set off down the River Shannon towards the sea. They land on what what we today call Skellig Michael and begin their work. But Trian has a secret. And both Trian and Cormac begin to have doubts about Artt, to whom they have vowed perpetual obedience.

Donoghue does a great job of conveying the claustrophobic feeling of living on a small island. She also builds tension slowly and expertly, and vividly portrays the natural beauty and the desolation of the island and the hardships the three monks endure to make it habitable.

To me, this book was about the issue that finally prompted me to switch churches about a year ago. It’s about the tension between an abstract faith that scorns our life of flesh and a living faith that honors both the body and the soul. Donoghue doesn’t preach or extemporize at all in her novel. She simply tells a story that illustrates the logical consequences of a faith that scorns this earth and deems body and soul incompatible. Magnificent.

You Have a Friend in 10A

Short story collections are hit-or-miss for me. Usually I only like a few of the stories. But I liked every single story in this collection, and loved several of them.

Shipstead is great at coming up with interesting situations for a short story. Unrequited love lasting for years on an isolated Montana ranch. A young man who believes he is the son of his mother’s employer. A French colony on a small island which loses contact with the rest of the world during WWI, leading to horrifying consequences. These stories really keep the reader turning pages.

And her use of language is both economical and gorgeous, a hard feat to pull off. In just one example, she describes a man who “resembled a petrified log in both body and spirit.” From those few words, can’t you just imagine him perfectly?

My favorite story was “Acknowledgements,” in which a young aspiring writer takes a unique revenge on a female classmate in his MFA program. But, rather than exposing her, he exposes himself and has to face flaws in both his character and his writing.

The only bad thing I can say about this collection is that it made me feel like “Oh. I’m not a real writer. Real writers produce stories like THESE.”


Trust tells the life story of fictional financier Andrew Bevel from four different perspectives.

The first section is a novel based on the lives of Bevel and his wife Mildred, fictionalizing them as Benjamin and Helen Rask. The Rasks are both portrayed as intellectually and socially rather unusual.  In this version, Rask is a financial manipulator, and the cause of both the 1929 stock market crash and his own wife’s death.

The second section is Bevel’s unfinished and self-serving autobiography.

In the third section, the young woman Bevel hired to write his autobiography, Ida Partenza, tells her story. We see her first as a naïve young woman, desperate for a job. Later, we meet her as a mature writer who goes back and tries to learn the truth about Andrew and Mildred Bevel.

The fourth section consists of Mildred’s journals, hidden for decades and finally uncovered by Ida.

I don’t want to say much more, because I want to allow future readers the delight of uncovering the truth bit by bit.

Demon Copperhead

As Demon Copperhead opens, Damon (nicknamed Demon) is a little boy growing up in a trailer in rural southwestern Virginia. His father died before he was born, and his mom is a recovering (ish) addict raising Demon herself on her wages as a stock clerk in Wal Mart. They rent the trailer from the kindly Peggott family, who live nearby, and Demon’s best friend is “Maggot” (Matthew) Peggott, their grandson. Times are hard, Demon longs for a father, and he has to be preternaturally mature to keep his loving-but-disorganized mother on track. He is also secretly in love with both Maggot’s Aunt June and cousin Emmy.

Demon’s life gets a lot worse when mom finds “love” with a man named Stoner. Before very long, Demon finds himself in the foster-care system. He bounces from family to family, none of them anything like nurturing. He develops even more toughness and resilience in circumstances that are heartbreaking to read. Then he gets what looks like a break, but turns into the beginning of a downhill slide.

This book is very affecting and hard to put down. Kingsolver’s portrayal of rural life in Appalachia is poignant, both in its warmth and beauty and in its poverty and despair. Demon’s voice is authentic and engaging. And Aunt June is an absolutely wonderful character, one of those women whose tough love can sometimes change the world. Demon also finds allies in a foster sister, a coach, two dedicated teachers and one friend who manages to keep his soul through brutal years in foster care. But his journey is far from easy.

This Tender Land

Albert and Odie are orphaned brothers, the only white boys living in an Indian School in Minnesota in 1932. The school is run by the pitiless Thelma Brickman and her equally odious husband. Their rules are enforced by the vicious, predatory Mr. DiMarco.

The boys’ lives are made bearable by their loyalty to each other. Albert, the older, is a rule follower. Odie’s rebellious, trouble-making nature exasperates Albert, but the brothers always have each other’s backs. And they have friends in the mute Indian Mose, the kindly school handyman and caretaker Mr. Volz, and their teacher Cora Frost and her sweet little girl Emmy.

In the summer of 1932, tragedy claims Mrs. Frost, Odie feels he is the cause of a horrifying accident, and dark secrets emerge about the Brickmans. This combination of events causes Albert, Odie, Mose and little Emmy to flee the school together. Thus begins a river odyssey that will take the children from northwestern Minnesota all the way to St. Louis, Missouri. Albert and Odie hope to find relatives in St. Louis.

The joy of This Tender Land isn’t just the very sympathetic characters of the four children. It’s also the beautifully-rendered portrayal of Depression-era America. Along their way, the children meet a half-crazed farmer about to lose his land, an Indian who may or may not be their protector, and a travelling faith healer. They land for a while in a camp of displaced workers and farmers where Odie falls in love for the first time. The Brickmans have reason to want them dead or at least silenced, and pursue them at every stage. The boys will feud, protect Emmy, protect each other, and grow up fast.

Parts of this book are so brutal that they are hard to read. But the story, and the rendering of the landscape of the Mississippi River watershed, were beautiful enough to make this a 5-star read for me.

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