Lum’s background is parceled out bit by bit, in chapters dating back to earlier points in time. Although this makes the narrative feel jumpy at first, it gradually fills in the picture about the circumstances that shaped her life. Ware writes sensitively of Lum’s childhood visit to the doctor, who discourages her from ever marrying, and the close relationship with her grandmother that endures despite the older woman’s refusal to acknowledge her differences. The social context of the times is finely sketched, too: the people’s Appalachian dialect, their personal pride and widespread poverty, and their wariness towards outsiders – both the dark-skinned “Melungeons” living up on the mountain, and Yankees from the government who want buy up their farms.
This compact novel is a treat for those who appreciate character-centered historical fiction. Lum’s courageous journey toward independence makes her a heroine worth rooting for, and readers will find themselves missing her company after the final page turns.
Lum: A Novel was published by She Writes Press on October 20th ($16.95 pb / $8.49 ebook, 214pp). This review first appeared in the Historical Novel Society's indie reviews for November. Libby Ware will be stopping by here on Thursday with a guest post on race in historical fiction.