I tend to find any story compelling when it’s been plucked from one intriguing line of a historical record. At the same time, I want to trust the writer who has turned an imagination-pique into a novel. I don’t wish to read in the author’s notes about how in reality our hero only might have taken that trip or parented this number of children or run off with so-and-so to discover that treasure.
Fortunately, when Jane Kirkpatrick creates a history tale she builds her speculations on a well-researched foundation. So I read with confidence the first two books in her Change and Cherish series, and recently when treated to her final installment, A Mending at the Edge, I was very satisfied to learn how things turned out for Emma Giesy.
In an interview at the back of the series’ first book, A Clearing in the Wild, Jane relates happening upon this sentence: “1853. Emma Giesy came as the only woman in a party of ten Bethel, Missouri, scouts to find an Oregon site for their communal society.” Jane then began a journey of discovery about a real woman who was certainly strong and capable, while most likely creative and resourceful.
In her books Jane has created a world with sense and texture regarding the ways we seek community and flee or withdraw from it at times. People: can’t always love 'em; it’s pretty impossible to leave 'em. I relate to this quandary within Emma. Her story never attempts to paint her family’s group as flawless, even though they’re portrayed as seeking to follow Christ and let their scriptural understanding guide them. The colony from Missouri founded what is now the town of Aurora, Oregon. We don’t discover them as folks on some outer fringe, either, within Jane’s imagery. I found a realistic balance as she wrote them as individuals.
At the back of A Tendering in the Storm, the middle book about Emma, Jane is again interviewed and is asked whether or not everyone got along as hoped for in Emma’s community. Jane responds, “There is strong evidence of dissention among the colonists, though what they portrayed to the outside world was a group of loving, supportive people. That’s not unlike most families (or even faith communities) where what we show to others is not always what we reveal to our closest friends.”
Jane reveals Emma’s character treading a path I readily accepted. Emma matures within a personality ever longing to stand out. At one point in the story Emma’s husband offers to hold a lantern for her at night as she searches for treasures along a bay shore. Emma replies, “I want to do it by myself, see what my light uncovers from the darkness.”
To step into these books is to discover what portions of both gloom and shining treasure Emma found.