On an odyssey

Books take readers through inner lives, civil war history

By Tyler Tichelaar

More Than You Think You Know

By Cyndi Perkins

More Than You Think You Know is a female odyssey through the Great Lakes by boat and down the Mississippi. Think Huckleberry Finn for women without the slaves, although overcoming a form of emotional slavery is definitely part of the plot.

The story begins with Hailey, a middle-aged woman with grown children who can no longer tolerate living with her abusive husband, Derek. He might not directly hit her, but he frequently and intentionally bumps into her and is verbally and emotionally abusive. Unable to deal with her husband’s abuse any longer, Hailey abandons him while they are on a sailing trip. She actually steals someone else’s boat and heads across Lake Michigan on her own. While terrified of being caught, she knows she has to take this chance to escape. Derek has always thought her an idiot when it comes to sailing, but remembering someone in her past telling her she knows more than she thinks she knows (hence the book’s title), she courageously forges ahead.

Hailey makes it to Chicago and a harbor before the Coast Guard starts searching for the stolen boat. In Chicago, she befriends Robin, who realizes Hailey’s boat is stolen, sympathizes with her situation, and offers her shelter on her own boat. Soon after, Robin and Hailey meet Trish, a gold-digger from Las Vegas who just deserted her sugar daddy. They quickly agree to be a traveling trio.

As the three women make their journey to the Gulf of Mexico through a series of rivers and locks, we learn about their pasts—how Hailey has silently gotten revenge on Derek by having a series of affairs; how Robin is slowly dying from lupus; how Trish formerly worked as a prostitute. Robin is affluent and bankrolls most of the trip. She even has a Roomba on her yacht to keep it clean—and the Roomba will play an important part in the plot later on.

I don’t want to be dismissive of  this book by calling it “chick lit.” It’s more than that. I think female readers will like it more than men—unless you’re into boating—but I think male readers will benefit also from seeing how women often view them. In many ways, it reminds me of now classic feminist novels from the 1970s like Small Changes by Marge Piercy and The Women’s Room by Marilyn French. Sadly, as this book reveals, situations haven’t changed all that much for women since those books were written.

These pages have pathos and humor, often at the expense of men. There’s also violence, sadness, and a sense of loss and yearning. In the end, Hailey and her friends realize they do know more than they think they know, and they are far stronger than they expected. They don’t always agree with each other’s decisions, but each woman learns how to handle the world in her own way.

Perkins knows what she writes about. Unlike Hailey and Derek’s marriage, hers has survived two 6,000-mile circumnavigations of America’s great loop on their 32-foot vessel Chip Ahoy. Those trips have provided detail and local color for the novel to support her realistically drawn heroines. The result is an updated version of the classic feminist novel.

For more information, visit CyndiPerkins.com.

Brotherhood of Iron

By Frank P. Slaughter

Brotherhood of Iron is the second volume in Frank P. Slaughter’s Castor Family Trilogy. The first volume, The Veteran, followed the Castor family during the Civil War. The primary character, Will, was a Union soldier who fought at Chickamauga. Will, now a grandfather, and called “Peep” by his family, makes appearances in this book, but the focus is instead on his son Robert, Robert’s wife, Elizabeth, and their four sons.

Brotherhood of Iron is set during World War I. Robert Castor works for Cleveland Cliffs and is a good friend with his employer William Gwinn Mather. His sons are all grown up and working. The novel opens when his youngest son, Jacob, comes to him because he wants to marry Rose, Robert and Elizabeth’s adopted daughter.

Bill Castor is the black sheep of the family. He has taken off to work on the ore boats. As the novel progresses, we see him get into various types of trouble, from drinking too much to being accused of more serious crimes. William Gwinn Mather, being his father’s friend, even steps in to rescue him at one point.

The other two sons, Matt and John, are fighting together in France. Early in the novel, Matt is killed and John wounded. The plot becomes more complicated when John is cared for by a young Frenchwoman named Arielle. John wants to protect her, and Arielle is all alone in the world since her father disappeared during the invasion of Belgium and her brothers have died in the war. With the help of a kind priest, a fake marriage certificate is made to claim Arielle and John are married so she can go to the United States and safety. General Pershing actually steps in at this point to help arrange matters. Of course, John is slowly falling in love with Arielle, but Arielle has a secret, and because she is so beautiful, John believes she is out of his league and will instead go off on her own once she reaches the United States. Nor is his family overly thrilled with the idea of a French “floozy” living with them.

Other historical elements of the novel include the flu epidemic of 1918 and the sense of times changing as horses are replaced by automobiles. Once the war is over, the novel jumps to 1926 and the Barnes-Hecker mining disaster in Ishpeming. I won’t give away which character dies in the tragedy that resulted in the loss of 51. I’ll just say readers will have a hard time keeping their eyes dry.

Slaughter’s books are historically accurate and recapture the past for readers. His writing is exactly what we would expect from someone who is a Civil War reenactor in his free time. The final volume of the series, The Generation, should be published this year.

For more information, visit FrankPSlaughter.com.


Editor’s note: Tichelaar is the author of My Marquette and Haunted Marquette. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit marquettemonthly.org.

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