Kate Krause sees her new home on her brand new husband’s farm the day after she marries him. She’s pregnant and theirs was a whirlwind internet dating courtship, but she’s deeply in love and so ready to have a home and family of her own in The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey. Instead, when she walks into the house, she finds her new mother-in-law there who is none too pleased to meet her. An introduction to farming lift isn’t quite what she expected.
Back in 1890 on the Krause family farm, Hannah Krause had a similar challenge. Her husband beat her relentlessly, and her stepson absolutely stood by his father’s belief that a woman should be seen and not heard, creating the perfect home for the menfolk. She’d been forced into the marriage with Jacob Krause by her father after rumors about a relationship between them. Her only happiness is her son Willie.
When Jacob is murdered one night when Hannah was unable to sleep and had been visiting with her son, her life is thrown into turmoil. Joseph, her stepson, wants nothing but the farm her believes her earned with his blood, sweat, and tears, and Hannah is questioned, then arrested for Jacob’s murder. Her not fitting in to the town haunts her, as the community isn’t inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Over a hundred years later, Kate finds that she’s trapped in a similar situation, as her husband Joe demonstrates that he isn’t exactly the man she’d thought she was marrying. His mother doesn’t move out as promised and instead works Kate to the bone doing difficult and disgusting farm chores from morning to night, and Joe has no issues with it. When Kate attempts to speak up, whether it be about getting a job, wanting a cat as a pet, or against leasing land near other farmers for a smelly hog pen, Joe is bitterly angry, brooking no dissent.
As the book veers between 1890 and 2012, the parallels between the lives of Kate and Hannah become all to apparent. No one in 2012 is willing to share the full Krause family history, including the descendants of Willie Krause with whom Joe (great grandson of Joseph) has an open feud. Kate continues to dig nonetheless, only bringing herself trouble.
I was honestly fascinated by this book. I knew I wanted to read it quickly, but I finished it in just over 24 very busy hours. It’s one of the books that you promise yourself just one more chapter, especially because the chapters are so very short. And three chapters later, you’re still reading. Kate is a compelling character who comes into the marriage having been browbeaten throughout her life by her grandmother who raised her after her parents died. She lives only to please others, and she has a hard time standing up for herself.
It was somewhat painful to read the justifications she gave about how she caused the arguments with Joe and it was how she approached the subject or the timing she used rather than recognizing that his behavior is irrational and unacceptable. As the book continued and Kate became friends with Rose Clement, a neighbor whose views don’t quite align with the Krause’s, Kate begins to gain an awareness of her own worth and develops into a far stronger character. It was pleasant to see her growth throughout the book.
The Widows of Braxton County defies an easy pigeonhole. It isn’t simply literary fiction. It isn’t a story simply of growth of a character. It definitely isn’t a romance. It isn’t quite a mystery novel. And yet it has aspects of all of those woven into it. As you start to gain more of a sense of the history of Hannah – and how and what happened to her – you are drawn further into the book and making true parallels between the lives of 1890 and the gratefulness we have for our lives (for the most part) today.
Written by Michelle who loves the idea in concept of being a farmer but could never manage to wake up in time for farm life. See what other impossible dreams she lives as she shares them on her blog Honest & Truly! or follow along with her on Twitter where she is also @HonestAndTruly.