Book Review for “Stories from Suffragette City” edited by Fiona Davis and M.J. Rose.
Summary: “[This] is a collection of short stories that all take place on a single day: October 23, 1915. It’s the day when tens of thousands of women marched up Fifth Avenue, demanding the right to vote in New York City. Thirteen of today’s bestselling authors have taken this moment as inspiration to raise the voices of history and breathe fresh life into their struggles and triumphs. The characters depicted here, some well-known, others unfamiliar, each inspire and reinvigorate the power of democracy. We follow a young woman who is swept up in the protests when all she expected was to sell her apples in the city. We see Ava Vanderbilt as her white-gloved sensibility is transformed over the course of the single fateful day. Ida B. Wells battles for racial justice in the women’s suffrage movement so that every woman’s voice can be heard. Each story stands on its own, but together “Stories from Suffragette City” becomes a symphony, painting a portrait of a country looking for a fight and ever restless for progress and equality.”
Let me start out by listing what you’ll find here and by whom.
- Introduction – Kristin Hannah (Editor)
- Apple Season – Lisa Wingate
- A First Step – M. J. Rose (Editor)
- Deeds Not Words – Steve Berry
- Thylacine – Paula McLain
- Siobhán – Katherine J. Chen
- The Runaway – Christina Baker Kline
- Boundless, We Ride – Jamie Ford
- American Womanhood – Dolen Perkins-Valdez
- We Shall Take Our Lives into Our Own Keeping – Megan Chance
- A Woman in Movement – Alyson Richman
- Just Politics – Chris Bohjalian
- The Last Mile – Fiona Davis (Editor)
Now I realize that these are all “best-selling” authors, but I’ve (regrettably) only read one book by Fiona Davis (“The Lions of Fifth Avenue”), and I’ve only heard of Kristin Hannah and Lisa Wingate, but never read any of their books. The rest of these are writers I never even heard of before, but there are a few here that I might decide to investigate after reading these stories.
Before I go any further, let me state that there was only one story (I’d prefer not to say which) that I had a real problem with in that I felt confused while reading it. This story included both flashbacks and events taking place the day of the march. My problem was that this story seemed to not have any clear distinction between these two time periods, with them all mixed up in the same paragraph, and even once or twice in the same sentence. Because of this, I couldn’t get any clear picture of what the author was trying to portray here, which was very disappointing for me.
Let me make a comparison here for a moment. This isn’t the first time I’ve read a collection of short stories by various authors around a single topic, and so you will forgive me if I make some comparisons here. The first book like this I read was “Fall of Poppies” which had nine stories about November 11, 1918 – the day that WWI ended. That book got a full 5/5 stars from me. The second was “Ribbons of Scarlet” which all had to do with women during the French Revolution. I gave that book 4/5 stars. The last one was “Another Time Another Place” which had no real discernible theme that I could find, and because the genres were so mixed, I ended up giving it 3.5/5 stars. Looking these books, it seems to me that a theme or a specific subject for stories is part of what makes a collection successful. On the surface, that would bode well for this collection, but it is also up to the writers to maintain a level of continuity in their stories. This, I think, is where these stories have a few problems.
To be specific, a great topic isn’t always enough to make a cohesive collection. With “Ribbons of Scarlet” the stories work chronologically, and where one ends, the next one seems to pick up, which really helped in unifying these stories. While this wasn’t the case with “Fall of Poppies” the date combined with all the authors including elements of personal relationships – both lost and found on that date – to solidify the book. Here, I thought that this extra element would be the character Grace, the young niece of Mr. Tiffany, whose aunt decides to take her to the parade, despite her uncle’s misgivings. That would have been a fantastic idea, but unfortunately, after a handful of these, the other authors (except for Fiona Davis, who wrote the last story here, which was actually my favorite) ignored this girl and went their own ways with their stories.
Not that these weren’t nicely written tales. However, I felt that with those stories that didn’t include Grace, the authors were more interested in giving us some other historical backdrops as to why women’s suffrage was so important to their characters. For example, there’s the story of the Armenian immigrant who witnessed her people’s genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire and the Turks. There’s also the story of the Black women in Chicago who were discriminated against by these suffragettes, both for this march and for the parade in Washington DC three years prior to this. Let me be clear; these were very important stories to tell. However, I felt that because the thread of Grace wasn’t in those stories, this ended up feeling like two different collections – one with Grace and one without.
All told, most of these stories were fascinating reads, and almost all of them well written. The two that I had problems with were the one I mentioned above that confused me, and another story that didn’t include Grace or anything ethnic or historical. That one was about a very afraid and repressed woman who finally defies her husband to join the march. It was a good story, but it felt out of place with all the others here. I think I can still recommend this book, but because of the fragmented feeling I got, I can only give it three and a half stars out of five.
Henry Holt and Co./Flatiron Books will release “Stories from Suffragette City” on October 27, 2020. This book is (or will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this book via NetGalley.