Love and Lament
John Milliken Thompson
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Love and Lament
John Milliken Thompson
Other Press
400 pages
August 2013
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Life was difficult in rural North Carolina in the years between the Civil War and World War I. People worked hard and didnít have the material things that are taken for granted in modern life. Families were large and people didnít travel that much, so family reigned supreme. But change was coming. These were the years during electricity started to be used, when cars started to jostle horses for dominance on the roads. Indoor plumbing was another major step forward, and the economy was moving from that of agriculture to commerce and industry.

John Milliken Thompsonís Love and Lament details the life of the Hartsoe family in the Piedmont region of North Carolina during these years. The Hartsoes were one of the major families in the region, its men Civil War heroes. Cicero Hartsoe comes back to Haw County and runs a store. For him, his wife and their nine children, life is hard, although family is a recompense from God for the difficulties encountered.

But the Hartsoe family seems marked out for tragedy. Mary Bet, the youngest, watches hopelessly as one by one, all her brothers and sisters are taken. Some die from diseases that would be easily cured today, some in accidents. By the time she is twenty, Mary Bet finds herself alone in the world, her only surviving parent in a hospital for life while she is left to make her way in the world.

Mary Bet is an interesting character. Although haunted by her family history, she manages to carve out a life for herself. She moves and finds a job, living in boarding houses and then with roommates. As the years go on, she is unsure if she will ever have another family, one of her own. Regardless, she moves on and finds value in the life she has been given to live.

Love and Lament is recommended for readers of historical fiction. It is difficult for most people to imagine how different life in our country was just a hundred years ago, how isolated people were due to the difficulty of transportation, and how reliant on family and friends each individual was. For women to carve out a separate life for themselves in this environment was a definite show of character. Readers will remember Mary Bet Hartsoe long after turning the final page.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Sandie Kirkland, 2013

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