I received an advanced review copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.
One of my favorite places to visit is The Finger Lakes region in New York so I was thrilled to find an historical fiction novel that is set in this beautiful place. Malcolm Hopeton moves from New Hampshire with his elderly grandfather and buys a plot of land to farm near Seneca Lake. Malcolm toils from dawn to dusk for years in order to yield a fertile bounty and he is very successful. He hires a young boy named Amos Wheeler as farm help which will prove to be one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
Malcolm also meets Bethany and they have a brief and whirlwind romance and settle down to a blissful, married life. When Malcolm decides to go and fight in The Civil War, and chooses to stay away for all four years of the war, his farm, his wife and all that he holds dear are taken away from him. He commits a horrific act of violence against Amos and Bethany for which he stands trial. As the story unfolds we learn that Malcolm is an honorable man who is driven to his breaking point.
The narrative also focuses on the character of Augustus, who I found to be the most interesting character in the novel. Augustus is also a hardworking farmer that has suffered tragedy very early on in his life. His pregnant wife, Narcissa, dies in childbirth and he vows to be alone for the rest of his days. He quickly realizes that he needs someone to help take care of his house and feed him, so he hires Becca Davis and they get along very well. But Augustus is so focused on staying faithful to his dead wife that he refuses to see what a great match he and Becca would make.
One theme that is carried throughout the novel is the abuse of women. Bethany is treated poorly by her father and is beaten mercilessly when he perceives that she has committed a sin. She finds solace and love with Malcolm, who turns around and abandons her to go off to war. When Malcolm is gone she is emotionally and physically abused by Amos Wheeler. Bethany’s life comes to a tragic end at the hands of her husband who, brought to his breaking point, kills Wheeler and in the ensuing struggle accidentally kills her as well.
Becca is treated well by Augustus but it becomes clear that she feels more for him than an employee feels for an employer. When Augusts takes in Becca’s teenage brother the three of them live together as a pseudo-family and Becca seems especially content with her living situation. But at two kept points in the novel Becca tries to have a serious conversation with Augustus and she is frustrated that she is still treated by him like nothing more than the hired help.
The bucolic language of the book captures the beauty and peacefulness of this region and the serene landscape stands in sharp contrast to the turmoil of the characters’ struggles. A SLANT OF LIGHT is an intense read that comes to an abrupt and incomplete ending. I was happy to read on Jeffrey Lent’s website that this book is the first in a two book deal with Bloomsbury. I look forward to the next installment.
Visit the author’s website for more information about his other novels: http://www.jeffreylent.com/