Author: Ann Weisgarber
Publication Date: 26 February 2019
Publisher: Mantle (Pan Macmillan)
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
While “The Glovemaker” is primarily the story of Deborah Tyler, the glovemaker of the title, it is also a story of the hardships particular settlers experienced in a young America.
This uses a part of American history that is not, I think, well known – the persecution of Mormons. Indeed, while this novel referenced incidents I was already aware of, it’s occurred to me that I really only know of them through other works of historical fiction. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across this aspect of American history in any of the actual history I’ve read.
This novel is set in and around the tiny settlement of Junction. A number of Saints live here, but they are Saints seeking “a little air” between themselves and their church. They have become uncomfortable with some aspects of their religion; one character remarks cynically that the practice of praying for religious revelations usually results in people being “told” to do what they wanted to do anyway. These settlers are seeking a place where they can live as Saints but not be constrained by every teaching of the church.
Some might say that the author is adding a modern gloss here, but in fact Junction is based on a real place and had clear differences from other areas settled by the Saints; notably, only one family practiced plural marriage. Weisgarber’s extrapolations are not unreasonable.
Deborah Tyler is awaiting the return of her husband, Samuel. He spends around three months a year travelling, working as a wheelwright across many small settlements. This has been the pattern of much of their marriage, and Deborah accepts it. But in 1888, Samuel is late returning. Deborah longs for him, the more so when a stranger brings trouble to her doorstep.
It is not the first time a man has turned up, seeking help evading the lawmen who want to arrest him for polygamy. But it’s not normal for them to come in the depths of winter, and it seems this fugitive brings a different kind of trouble in his wake. Will Deborah help him? Should she?
Weisgarber does a wonderful job of depicting the way Deborah longs for her husband. She’s independent and capable, but they clearly share a deep love which means that although she can get along fine without him, life would be much improved by his mere presence.
I really enjoyed this novel. The unusual setting and historical background was fascinating, and Weisgarber brings them to life vividly and completely. However, it’s the characters that really make this novel stand out. Although their lifestyle is far different to that of modern Australians, their emotional needs and interactions with each other are much the same. I found myself sucked into Deborah’s psyche to a much larger degree than I’d expected, and very quickly too.
This is the story of a strong woman in a difficult position, with the spectre of an unfathomable loss lurking in the background and coloring many of her thoughts. It stood out from the crowd for me and I think will prove memorable in the long run. It’s not a long novel, but it makes a strong impression.
This guest review was submitted by our Beauty and Lace Club member: Lorraine. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine.