By Mary Sharratt
Stunningly detailed, richly plotted, and emotionally engrossing, The Real Minerva is the story of three women forging their own paths in a Midwestern farming community. In 1923, as book-loving Penny enters adolescence, her mother, Barbara, pulls her out of school to send her to work. Destined to become a cleaning woman like her mother, Penny sees no escape from her bleak existence until a scandalous figure arrives in the town of Minerva, Minnesota: Cora, very pregnant, very headstrong, and very alone, has come to make a home on her grandfather's farm. Intrigued by this curious new resident, Penny sets out to work for Cora. Suspenseful and moving,The Real Minerva is a remarkable novel about the strength of women and the unexpected bonds that form between them.
Mary Sharratt is the author of the much-acclaimed debut, Summit Avenue, and the forthcoming novel The Vanishing Point. A born-and-bred Minnesotan, Sharratt drew on her mother's and grandmother's stories of Minnesota farm life in the early twentieth century for The Real Minerva. She now lives in Lancashire, England.
From Publishers Weekly
This story of three women—a mother, her daughter and the town pariah—living in a Minnesota hamlet in 1923 is a heartfelt tale of female empowerment, hampered slightly by unnecessary exposition and a sometimes predictable plot. Fifteen-year-old Penny Niebeck is a curious, gentle girl living and working with her beautiful mother, Barbara, a cleaning woman for the privileged Hamilton family. Hardened by incest (of which Penny was the result), Barbara loves her daughter but is suspicious and cynical about human nature. She's also having an affair with Laurence Hamilton, a relationship that disgusts Penny. Meanwhile, Penny finds "the Maagdenbergh woman," whose real name is Cora Egan, fascinating. A moneyed socialite rumored to have fled Chicago and an abusive husband, Cora dresses like a man and runs her family farm on her own—but she's pregnant and could use a hired hand. Following a quarrel with her mother, Penny runs to Cora's, arriving just in time to help her give birth to a baby girl. It's the beginning of a beautiful but deeply complicated friendship, as the women's relationships with their men take tragic turns. While Sharratt's (Summit Avenue
) male characters are often leering and dangerous, her female characters emerge as convincingly ambivalent, yearning and sympathetic, and their emotionally satisfying, old-fashioned happy ending should be a crowd pleaser.
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Set in small-town Minerva, Minnesota, in 1923, this novel is a paean to the bond between mothers and daughters, actual and otherwise. Fifteen-year-old Penny Niebeck, angry over her mother Barbara's affair with the man for whom she keeps house, takes off to become a hired girl herself for Cora Viney, who dresses in men's clothing and works her grandfather's farm alone while awaiting the birth of her child. Penny proves a lifesaver for Cora and newborn Phoebe, and her life is soon entwined with theirs until tragedy strikes at the farm and the Hamilton house. Both mothers have risen above being victimized by the men closest to them, Barbara raped by her father, who tried to drown newborn Penny, and Cora physically abused by her husband, a prominent doctor. Penny, the link between the two women, becomes both surrogate mother and daughter and is the key cause of the seemingly inevitable violent event that will shape her life. Having woven fairytales into Summit Avenue (2000), Sharratt now threads The Odyssey through this engrossing tale. Michele Leber
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