Saturday, May 13, 2017

In The Fullness of Time: A Novel About A Fictional South Carolina Suffragette

Suffragettes are a favorite historical topic of mine.  So far this year I've reviewed  The Poison in All of Us,  a murder mystery dealing with suffragettes, on this blog here.  I've also reviewed a biography of British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer here.   So I was glad to see a request to review another suffragette novel in my e-mail.   That book was In The Fullness of  Time by Katherine P. Stillerman.  I received a free copy in return for this honest review.

 I wasn't aware that this book was a sequel until I finished it and read the Author's Note.  The first book was Hattie's Place and dealt with the same protagonist.  Since I haven't read it, I can only speculate about Hattie's Place based on its description.  It sounds more character centered than In The Fullness of Time.

 There is a good deal of telling and conversing about events that occurred off the narrative stage.   When an author does this, it distances the readers from those events.   If they are events that are significant in the lives of the characters, the audience may also feel distanced from the characters.  We don't find out what the characters were feeling and thinking as we would if we got to experience the events in real time as the characters experienced them.  

When I read about the focus and source of inspiration for this book in the Author's Note, I understood why Stillerman made the choices that she did. Like many American feminists, she was impressed by the fact that a woman was running for President of the United States.  So the symbolism of publishing a suffragette novel in these circumstances was irresistible. As a feminist myself, I was sympathetic to that perspective.  Unfortunately, this meant that at times Stillerman was more focused on the history of women's suffrage than on the characters.  It seems to me that the result was that her novel had less impact.

Another problem for me is that I was most interested in Hattie's sister in law, Alice, because she was more independent minded than Hattie.  I often wished that Alice was the protagonist.   Perhaps Stillerman thought that Alice was too unconventional and therefore less relatable for her audience.   Some readers also might think that the book would feel more historically authentic with a more typical woman as the central character.  Yet women like Alice did exist,  and I believe that novels that feature them inspire current readers.  It's also possible that if I had read Hattie's Place, I would have considered Hattie a stronger protagonist.

The male character that I considered most interesting was dead before the novel opened.   He was Alice's husband, Raymond,  an innovative physician with extraordinary insight.   I would love to read a book about Alice's unusual  marriage to this man.   Instead the story of Alice's marriage was used as a learning experience for Hattie.  It seems to me that there would be more dramatic power in showing Alice's experiences first hand.

There was an aspect of In The Fullness of Time that I considered valuable because I love history.   Stillerman describes the political process of how women's suffrage became law in the U.S. on both the federal and state levels, and all the obstacles to achieving ratification.  I have never seen a novel that was this detailed about all the practical politics involved in this issue.  Stillerman cites an extensive bibliography in her Notes on Sources.  Her research definitely shows.  For me, all the details made fascinating reading.  Suffragette novels usually only show dramatic high points in the struggle which is more entertaining for the general reader.   I imagine that I am an outlier, and that most of her audience would prefer a book that is more novelistic.