While probing her family tree, author Darlene Porter encountered a many-times-great grandmother who fascinated her, then embarked on a quest to tell not just that woman’s story, but those of representative women in Puritan New England. To tackle the task, Porter employs the creative nonfiction genre, blending a mélange of hard fact with re-imaginings the author infers from research.
The first of a trilogy, the book stands comfortably on its own. It unfolds chronologically, with dates marking the beginning of each chapter.
The story follows Mary Wiggin from teen years in the early 1600s surviving Plague-ridden England through her early marriage and precarious ocean journey to Massachusetts. The Wiggin family (Mary, husband William and their son) encounter storms and personal devastations on the ship. After establishing itself, the growing family leads the daily lives of immigrants and soon tackles individual spiritual and practical decisions that prompt them to join Rev. Richard Hooker on his inspired journey leading a band of Congregationalists to conquer and settle the “frontier” of current day Connecticut.
Since the tale is narrated by Wiggin, the language stylings are those of the 17th century, and Porter is consistent with this throughout. While she does a respectable job with dialogue, it’s sometimes used as an expositional device; thus, her weaving of fact and imagined truth are not as seamless at times as they could be.
Nonetheless, this is an engaging read. The author’s tremendous research is evident, and readers learn much about the lives of ordinary Puritan women, down to how long a woman was required to remain out of society after childbirth. Porter carefully attributes her sources, and has spared no effort in assuring that historical names and places are accurate.
Those who appreciate a female-centric story will enjoy this tale, and readers interested in the United States in its infancy will find pleasure in recognizing the names and dates that Porter recounts.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.