There are some books you pick up that you regret having read even one sentence. Sometimes you put them down, wiping the memory of them from you, while sometimes you slog through – hoping against hope that it gets better at some point. Thankfully, Seven Locks: A Novel by Christine Wade falls into that category. She has a style of writing that takes getting used to, but slog through because this is one of the books that does turn out to be worth it.
In 1770, a Dutch family is trying to farm in the Hudson River Valley, but it isn’t going well. The husband is lazy and prefers to do anything but work, and the wife is filled with frustration, feeling forced to constantly nag her husband to do the work he should know to do on his own. And one day he takes his gun and his dog and walks off after a fight. He never returns to her.
Seven Locks follows the story of the mother and daughter left behind. The mother picks up as much of her husband’s slack as possible, but with two young children and a village that sees her as the scold who drove her husband away, it is a lonely and difficult challenge. She is a cold woman, though I understand her motivations. She has a great deal of pride and manages to succeed in scraping out a living, triumphing over the weasel who eats all her chickens save one to the gardening and farming to the chopping of wood necessary for heat and cooking.
Her daughter, frequently referred to by her mother only as the girl (and her brother as the boy), shares her voice in small chapters throughout the book, growing from a young child at the start through to a wife and mother of her own by the end. Not surprisingly, she understands and sympathizes with her mother far more when she has a household of her own to manage.
The book shares the daily struggle of the family, from the daughter going through typical teenage rebellion against her mother and desire from a very different life to feeding the sow on the farm. Throughout it all, the woman expresses bitterness towards her wayward husband, whose body is never found. She reminisces over why she married him in the first place and what went wrong, along with vehement exhortations against him were he to ever return.
She becomes a caricature in the village, as the inhabitants first believe she drove away her husband with her tongue and later that she killed him. It becomes an early urban legend that bits of her husband are inside the sausages that she attempts to sell to earn money for the necessities of life, and not surprisingly no one purchases any, though she never knows why.
Seven Locks is based on a folk tale (written by an ancestor of mine, ironically enough) but told in the reverse. It’s the “what if” version that you will never find in a book of fairy tales. And it’s incredibly clever for asking and answering that question. Is it my favorite book ever? No, but this is definitely one that I’m glad I didn’t put down after I didn’t get into the book within the first two chapters. Especially since the book does come its full circle to answer all those questions it brings up at the beginning. It’s satisfying.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book for review purposes. I was not otherwise compensated, and all opinions remain my own.
Written by Michelle who admires the 1700s but is grateful for her own comfort that she doesn’t live there herself. Follow along with her other dreams and wishes on her blog Honest & Truly! or on Twitter where she is also @HonestAndTruly.