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Art Winslow in the Chicago Tribune

reviews

Strip the saga from the family saga, and history-as-pageant treatment from the historical novel, and you end up roughly in the literary terrain that Emily Barton occupies in her heartfelt new novel, Brookland . . . For Barton, history is more than costuming and period color.

– Art Winslow, the Chicago Tribune on Brookland

Strip the saga from the family saga, and history-as-pageant treatment from the historical novel, and you end up roughly in the literary terrain that Emily Barton occupies in her heartfelt new novel, Brookland… For Barton, history is more than costuming and period color. In the Revolutionary years, for example, the king’s soldiers still linger in Brookland, even after the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown (in fall 1781), and they are more of a presence in the novel than the stately figures of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, mentioned only fleetingly as a reminder that the historical clock is ticking as Barton’s characters age. History, as Barton uses it, becomes the set of everyday conditions that define the physical and psychological possibilities for her characters. So the fact that the king’s soldiers have denuded Brookland, hacking down most of the trees, is as material as the Revolution itself in its immediate effects on the people we meet: ginmakers, farmers, sawmill operators, ferrymen, tavernkeepers, children. Likewise, while Barton’s tale is multigenerational, the lives of the central characters are not epic in the sweeping, theatric sense. Why is it that historical novels routinely depend on characters “swept up” in the great moments of history? One thing Brookland demonstrates is the lack of necessity for such plotting: Characters can have gripping lives in gripping times, with the public and private events somewhat dissociated from each other, as in life. We should have guessed from Barton’s first novel, The Testament of Yves Gundron, that she would use genres for her own ends… Yet uncertainty—the unknown, even when it is a sibling or a parent or a spouse in question—is the most intoxicating agent in Brookland.

on Brookland

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