Tangled Roots – Marianne K. Martin (Bywater Books)

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I usually snap up whatever Bywater Books comes out with, and I have been exposed to some amazing authors this way–Hilary Sloin, Bett Norris, and Jill Malone among others. So, I was surprised when I received this prequel to Marianne K. Martin’s Under the Witness Tree, which managed to escape my attention. I’ve since added it to my TBR list, which in itself has grown to the size of a small novel, but Tangled Roots is a standalone that is sure to please.

Addy Grayson is a matriarch raising her granddaughters, Emily and Anna in early twentieth century Georgia, but the trials that she endured during the Civil War have lingering results that filter down to her charges–especially as Anna becomes best friends with the servant’s daughter, Nessie. The girls must cope with prejudice, Anna’s nursing career and goals, her involvement in the suffragette movement as well as their sexual awakening and attraction for each other.

Martin’s greatest gift is in her sharply detailed and altogether convincing characters. Addy Grayson’s strength and indomitable nature are palpable, and she is the glue which holds the family together. Anna is also finely wrought, as is Nessie. Their actions, their dialogue, their interrelationships with each other, are all absolutely true to their characters, and they never strike a false note. Her Georgia setting is evocative, and Martin does a wonderful job of portraying the racial and political attitudes of the time period.

So why am I so frustrated by the brevity of this book? Partially because Martin creates such a terrific place to be that I never wanted to leave it. This book, only 208 pages, could be half again that long and still keep my attention. The suffragette stuggle alone could have carried the additional length, never mind any additional exploration of Anna and Nessie’s relationship. But perhaps Under the Witness Tree has those bases covered.

Nevertheless, Tangled Roots is an amazing portrait of two women caught up in the social and political strife of their time, as warm and real as it is engaging. Highly recommended.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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