Saturday, February 2, 2013

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd - Somehow Beautifully Written but Can't Rise to the Occasion

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May DoddOne Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Definitely did not live up....

The overall story itself was acceptable - interesting enough to where I actually finished the book, but nothing to write home about (beyond here, of course!). The overall book was mediocre to fair at best.

The writing was eloquent, detailed and very descriptive. But for me, this is actually part of the problem with this book. We are learning the story of May Dodd, an upper-class white woman who escapes wrongful incarceration in a mental institution to join a rag tag group of other women. These women are being taken from the mid-west and essentially traded to men of Northern Cheyenne nation in an attempt to assimilate the "savages" with the "superior" white world, and May has the foresight of bringing writing supplies so we can learn the story through her journals. This premise is great, but the journal entries are written in a way that reads like any regular novel written in the first person. I don't claim to be an expert on the journaling styles of the late 19th century, but it seemed pretty unbelievable to me when entire conversations were quoted verbatim, sometimes a month after the fact and writing seemed so scripted, as a novel would, rather than the free-form thoughts I would have liked to get from a purported journal. I actually think this novel would have been much more enjoyable to me, without changing a thing, had it not been presented as persona journals - the story itself would have still had enough interest, but I would not have been hung up on the fact that really couldn't buy into that these were supposed to be journals. There were also several areas where her writing seemed to change so much that it felt like another person had written that piece. It all came across as disjointed and somewhat unbelievable.

My other beef is with the historical accuracy of some of the basic facts. Little Wolf is a Cheyenne who I have actually read about, and is the first to jump to mind in this regard. Something did not quite fit my memory in May's description of him when they first met so Google gave me a little boost. In May's initial description, she describes him as older but not more than 40. However, Little Wolf was born c.1820 so that would have put him in the area of 55 when May met him in 1875. Sure, age does not mean you have to look a certain way, but in my mind this is a difference she should have seen. Then, in the final section written by Brother Anthony, he describes Little Wolf as being well into his 90s when he died in 1904. Not only was he actually in his mid-80s when he died, a man who May had described as around 40 in 1875 would have only been about 75 in 1904. Yes, these are just two details and is probably splitting hairs, but one thing that gets my blood boiling is poor research and inconsistency. Fiction or not, if you are going to base part of your story on any real person or event, I expect that you can at least get the basic timeline correct. In addition to nagging at me as I read, it also takes away the author's credibility in the sense that I very much enjoy learning from historical fiction, and when I can't trust that the basic facts are correct then it takes a lot away from it for me.

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  1. I agree with you about accuracy in historical novels - the places, the times, and the real people have to be researched and correct. I do learn a lot of history from historical novels, and I don't want to be wasting my time learning incorrect info. I don't think I will read this book right now. I am reading Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue.

  2. I am all for creative license, it is fiction after all, but I agree completely with not wasting time on incorrect stuff!

    Telegraph Avenue is on my TBR, how is it so far?

  3. I am about 16% along right now. It is a little bit tough to take because of the rough reminds me of Pulp Fiction in scenes in an old Oldsmobile Toronado, but it is good and spicy and holding my interest! It flashes back and forth in time, and I don't have all the characters solid in my mind yet.

  4. Mmmm, that definitely does sound intense, I think I will need to make sure to slot it in amongst some lighter reads when it's time comes!