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Feb. 22nd, 2017

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What did you just finish?
The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams. A novel about Josephine Marcus, a Jewish girl from San Francisco who ends up becoming Wyatt Earp's common-law wife and spending most of her life with him. This is a pretty intriguing bit of historical detail to base a novel on; unfortunately it didn't quite work for me. I can't say it's bad exactly. It's just not what I wanted.

The first and most important flaw is that the book is told in first person and Adams gives Josephine a very strong, specific voice. A bold choice! But a risky one, and one that I never adjusted to. I just never felt that it was a real person speaking instead of some shallow stereotype of 'feisty Wild West lady'. Here's an example from the opening pages:
Let’s face it: aging is a bitch for everybody. It’s a dumb joke that’s replayed every day when you awaken from dreams where you’re running around in your prime, chasing after men long dead with an ache in your pants, only to find yourself as you really are: creaky and misshapen, breasts touching belly, and alone in the spare bedroom under the roof of distant relations. But for a beautiful woman like I was—and don’t just take my word for it; even our enemies said I was the most beautiful woman to ever step off a stage in Tombstone—it’s even harder. Sometime in your teens men just start turning toward you, waking up to you (and women begin to prickle, although you hardly take the time to understand why)—the rabbi, his son, the wealthier widowers eyed hungrily by the mothers of the congregation for their daughters. You discover your power in the world and you itch to exercise it, to leave your mother’s shadow and find your rightful glorious place in the new world beyond the shtetl by the sea, San Francisco, where the German Jews lorded over us Prussian immigrants. And all that time when you should have been gaining character—reading books, learning languages, growing wiser, and mastering hardships—you’ve been busy tossing your curls from one shoulder to the next and rushing headlong into a future that you assume will catch you.
I wasn’t dumb. I was just distracted by the sway of my own breasts. Beauty brings trust in the universe, and then, in that cruel joke, over time it rescinds your power. Your brow furrows, your vanity chisels your features, and the frontier wind batters your skin. That demon strand of gray weaves itself into the brown. Your chest grows and grows in a race with your thighs. One day you’re walking alone down a street and no heads turn, no eyes seek you out, and you’re not a pillar of society or a great thinker or the mother of a brood of scholars, but a little woman in shabby shoes long out of fashion, writing letters to the editors and trying to exert some control over a life that’s disappeared.


See what I mean? It's not bad, and I'm sure it's exactly to many people's taste. Just not mine. (Also, it might be unfair, but I have to quote this line, which made me howl with presumably unintentional laughter: His feelings were as real and solid as his biceps.)

Overall, the book is bit more romance novel than historical fiction in its tone and focus, though it's always a blurry line between those genres. There's a surprising amount of page time given over to Josephine's first man, Sheriff Johnny Behan, who ends up coming off as a more of a major character than Wyatt Earp, and definitely more specific and well-rounded. Earp is always a bit of a romanticized cipher.

Last Woman Standing unsurprisingly puts its climax on the gunfight at the OK Corral, though it left me with more questions than answers. Why are these people even fighting? Why has a single fight involving less than ten people come to be the most famous of the whole 'Wild West', a period of time that surely included more interesting events? Why was Tombstone itself such a big deal anyway, given the number of boomtowns in the late 1800s? (Wikipedia proved more revealing on these topics than the novel: never a good sign.)

In the end, I wouldn't call Last Woman Standing a waste of my time, but I wouldn't recommend it either.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.


Mount TBR update: Nothing new this week, leaving me at 4.


What are you currently reading?
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. Now this one is a TBR book!

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