Monday, June 13, 2022

Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury evokes early 20th-century Great Lakes women's lives, at sea and on land

With a strong sense of verisimilitude, Bryan takes readers into the raging heart of a historic event best experienced through fiction: the devastating Great Lakes Storm of 1913. As November settles in, during what’s been a low-casualty shipping season thus far, three sisters with deep roots in the region quietly endure the weight of marital and family expectations, not realizing how high the stakes will soon be raised for their very survival.

For the last decade, Sunny Colvin has cooked alongside her husband Herb, ship’s steward, aboard the steel freighter Titus Brown as it plies Lake Huron. When she hears a cafĂ© is for sale in her home of Port Austin, Michigan, she fears disappointing Herb with her yearning to purchase it and leave shipboard life behind. Sunny’s younger sister Cordelia, a newlywed wanting to know her stoic lake-captain husband Edmund better, joins him on his journey across Lake Superior.

Back in Port Austin, a picturesque town on Michigan’s “Thumb,” oldest sister Agnes Inby, a widow of thirty-six, spends her days painting pottery and caring for her difficult mother, not letting herself dream about anything more, such as her unexpected feelings for the lighthouse-keeper’s sister, Lizzie. Adding to the already palpable tension of suppressed words and desires, the storm erupts at sea.

This is a real hang-onto-your-seat read. The action is nonstop intense as Sunny and Cordelia endure howling winds and freezing temperatures as water seeps in and fills their living spaces while the ships pitch from side to side. Inside at the Port Austin Life-Saving Station, where she grew up, Agnes prays the building will continue to hold. Bryan illustrates the interior lives of early 20th-century Great Lakes women as adeptly as she describes a ship’s layout and the visceral experience of this destructive storm.

Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury was independently published last October; I reviewed it for May's Historical Novels Review. An author I know recommended it to me, and the subject intrigued me because part of my family is from Michigan.  It's definitely worth reading! This is the author's debut novel, and it's also received positive mentions from Publishers Weekly and the Blue Ink Review. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

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