Writing: 5/5 Plot: 5/5 Characters: 5/5
Sallie Kincaid — a larger than life heroine if I’ve ever read one — comes of age in hillbilly country during Prohibition. Daughter of “the Duke,” who runs the county, she eventually inherits all that was his — the power and the immense responsibility. Unwilling to marry (having seen how badly women fare in the imbalance between the sexes), she is going it alone.
Inspired by the Tudor dynasty, specifically Elizabeth I, this story is a fascinating and seamless transposition of that singular journey — a female growing from child banishment to the leadership of a patriarchal empire — from the Elizabethan Era (late 1500s) to the Prohibition Era (1920s). With outstanding writing, Walls brings to life a set of utterly believable characters with bold depictions of their inner and outer lives. Character interactions bring out both the individual striving and the (usually invisible) impact across other lives. Plenty of every day philosophy and thinking. Impossible to put down.
Some great quotes:
“I don’t for one second forget that what we are doing is illegal, but legal and illegal and right and wrong don’t always line up. Ask a former slave. Plenty of them still around. Sometimes the so-called law is nothing but the haves telling the have-nots to stay in their place.”
“This man whose approval I so craved. He loved being loved, but he never truly loved anyone back. He took what he wanted from people, then once he got it, cast them aside.”
(She got what she deserved…) “That’s what some people said when Mama was killed. It is what you tell yourself sometimes, a way to make sense of things, a way to make you feel safer, that people who get hurt bring it on themselves. But it’s such a lie. Lots of folks don’t deserve what they get.”
“I’m not sure if I’m remembering what happened or just finally understanding it, but all these years, I’ve been hearing stories about Mama as told by others, and now, I finally understand the story as Mama would have told it.”
“What else are you going to do? You can get married or you can become a schoolteacher or a nurse. Other than that, it’s slim pickings — a nun or a whore or a spinster peeling potatoes in the corner of some relation’s kitchen.”
“If a woman wants to get ahead in this world, she marries well and mark my words, Sallie, no man worth the clothes on his back is going to let a woman outshine him.”
“A handout. You think you’re being all generous, but what you’re also saying is you got what the other person doesn’t — so much of it you’re giving it away.”
“It’s when the boss asks you to do something you know to be wrong and you do it anyways. That sort of work whittles away at the soul.”
“There are two kinds of brave people in this world, it hits me, those who fight and those who protect the ones who can’t fight.”
“I thought being in charge meant I was beholden to no one. What it truly means is that I am beholden to everyone.”
“He’s going on about how, back in Scotland, we Kincaids fought the highlanders who tried to rustle our cattle and the English who tried to take our land, then we fought the Irish when they wouldn’t let us take theirs, and when we came to Virginia, we fought the Indians for the same reason, then the English again with a lot of talk about defending freedom, then the Yankees with a lot of talk about defending slavery. When we were defeated, we still declared victory but we also swore revenge. I wish I could say we were always on the side of right, but that would be a lie. We fought people for doing to us exactly what we did to others, fought for them wanting the same rights we had.”
Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on March 28th, 2023.