In Kitty’s People, Susan Barrett Price delivers a biographical novel that traces her family’s Irish immigrant roots over three generations, from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression.
After arriving alone in Chicago in 1885 to escape poverty, 19-year-old Maggie Keville is resolute to build a better life. While working as a seamstress, she meets another recent Irish immigrant, Moses Flanagan. They marry in 1888 and move to the suburbs before settling in St. Louis, where Moses works in manufacturing and they raise seven children. Despite the family’s increasing financial prosperity, natural disasters, health issues, and crime pose threats to their comfortable existence.
Price focuses primarily on the couple’s child, Kitty, Price’s grandmother, who marries Tom Barrett in 1912. Much like her parents, Kitty wrestles with familial responsibilities and hardship. She tries to keep her extended family together and the Barrett family grocery business profitable while navigating perils posed by WWI, the Spanish flu, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.
Kitty is a complex, likable figure who understands that “As her past disintegrates behind her, she needs to see the future.” Though determined in her goals, she’s not above letting loose at times. As Kitty increasingly takes charge of her life amid continuing crises, she resolves that whatever the future brings, she “damn well won’t be bullied into humble retreat now.”
In the Preface, Price describes her extensive research to fill gaps left by her ancestors’ documents and acknowledges the “application of storytelling methods to complete the picture.” Her efforts result in a sweeping saga whose momentum only occasionally slows. She imbues each of her relatives with unique personalities while relating their experiences to the relevant historical circumstances. Even fashion plays a role in providing context, whether it be Maggie’s corseted figure or Kitty’s bobbed hair and cinched waist.
This is a thoroughly researched, well written, fictionalized family history that provides an engrossing look at an Irish-American family’s experience in the Midwest from 1885-1934.
Also available as an ebook.