books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Women Writers

“The Widow Nash” by Jamie Harrison

“Her hair was thick and brown, and her eyes were large and brown. She had a long face and nearsighted eyes, a figure that was generous without being lewd, and nervous movements. She was twenty-four years old with good posture but the shadow of a limp from breaking her leg as a young child. She seemed patient to people who didn’t know her well, but she had a bad temper and a habit of saying cruel, articulate things she later regretted.”

IMG_0556Leda Cordelia Dulcinea Remfrey, known by all as Dulcy, is a wondrously irresistible heroine. Daughter of serial schemer and syphilitic cad Walton Remfrey, Dulcy is swept up in the early twentieth century world of mining speculation and insufferable men. As she follows her father around the world, serving as his personal assistant and book keeper, Dulcy learns much about the ways of the world and the dealings of those with unchecked ambition. One such rogue is Victor Maslingen, her father’s latest business partner and a man who “opened the wide world for her but sluiced away her joy.”

When they first met, Dulcy was taken with Victor, eventually consenting to his proposal of marriage.

“Years earlier, after Walton had introduced them, Victor would sit near her without quite touching, and this containment made her head reel. It seemed like a promise, and of course it was one. When they walked, he would touch her elbow and no more; when they sat together at parties, he was always two inches away, heat instead of touch. He was so handsome, so smart, so painfully shy: she daydreamed a revolution, a revelation, a man reborn, but that had been before the clarity of their first physical encounter.” 

Victor, it seems, is without scruples. He is greedy, calculating, cold, and violent. Dulcy, fortunately, possesses self-knowledge and self-confidence. When she realizes Victor’s true nature, she breaks their engagement and leaves California for upstate New York to care for her dying grandmother, only to be called back when her father’s syphilitic dementia leads to a missing fortune. Victor will stop at nothing to recover his losses, charging Dulcy with the task of extracting information from the tangled webs of her father’s thoughts and endeavoring to re-enslave her, to rekindle their partnership.

“[H]e would follow her to New York, they would marry without waiting for the end of mourning, this roughness was only an anomaly, because she should have understood, she’d forgotten how hard things were for him; if she screamed, if she lied, he’d throw her out the window and tell her family she was a whore. She should think of how fine ti would be, how easy always ever onward. She should understand he’d do this to her until she loved him again.”

Clever, tireless Dulcy plots her escape.

“‘I wish I were dead,’ she said.
‘No, you don’t,’ he said, turning to leave. ‘You wish you were dead to some people.'”

And this is it, exactly. Dulcy stages her own death and in an exciting, intrigue-filled plot, attempts to remake herself in a small Montana town as the “Widow Nash”. What follows is at times poetic and deeply personal, at others nail-bitingly thrilling and always beautifully written.

“Dulcy felt she said too little, too much. She didn’t want to be sucked into this world, but she knew that loneliness was liquid, and she was drowning. Sometimes she had the sense that she was tipping off the earth, that she could feel it spin. Her moments of elation, her sense that she could escape alive, would falter.”

“The Widow Nash” is an extremely beautiful book. It is at times profoundly quiet, as Dulcy isolates and insulates herself, holding her tongue and biding her time, trying both to assimilate into her adopted home and to remain invisible and separate. At other times, the danger, the intrigue, and the thrills are seismic. Jamie Harrison has breathed vitality and feminine strength into a landscape – the turn-of-the-century West – that makes it intensely compelling and memorable.

Thank you to Counterpoint Press for providing a complimentary copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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