Set in the early 1900s, “The Widow Nash” is a languid yet intriguing read. Although slow moving at times, Jamie Harrison has conjured a story that is packed with ambiance and quirk-filled characters abound.
Dulcy Remfrey is a young woman who has been called from New York City to Seattle to care for her syphilitic father, Walton, who has seemingly forgotten what happened to the proceeds of the sales of an African mine. Walton’s business partner and Ducly’s ex-fiancé, Victor, is a wealthy, violent and obsessive man who holds Dulcy and Walton in loose captivity on the premise that he is looking for the money, but also with the goal of again becoming close with Dulcy.
The plot of “The Widow Nash” is slow to build. Harrison spends significant time and pages on Dulcy and Walton’s early travels and Walton’s preoccupation with earthquakes and finding a cure for his syphilis. While it takes up a lot of time and can drag on, this history is important to the second half of the novel, building both the background for Dulcy’s dramatic escape and for building tension over where Walton has left the money Victor is so desperate to find. The story picks up when Dulcy decides to fake her own death, making it appear that she has jumped from a train somewhere in eastern Montana. As Dulcy attempts to settle into a new life under the assumed moniker of the Widow Maria Nash in Livingston, an entirely new and interesting cast of characters join the story.
Dulcy is the kind of female character who I love to love. She is strong and independent, taking her life into her own hands. Harrison has debunked the idea that women in the early 1900s had no control over their lives and only looked to men for direction and happiness. There is a love story but it is not standard, and Dulcy certainly isn’t dependent upon a man to rescue her. All of the characters have the kind of quirks that feel natural to the reader. No one character is perfect, and Harrison shines at creating a cast of friends and associates that I would happily spend an evening drinking and chatting with. There’s also an abundant crowd of despicable characters, each fascinating in their eccentricities. The characters that I hated in this novel are exactly the kind of characters that I love to hate.
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The second half of the novel sometimes felt like a madcap romp, particularly toward the end where a small disaster only seemed to be followed by a bigger one. It definitely kept me turning pages to see what happened next, but up against the slower pace in the beginning, the sudden drama caught me off guard. Some readers may be overwhelmed with all the mishaps, both mundane and spectacular, that occur within Dulcy’s little world.
There’s certainly a lot of drama within “The Widow Nash:” rape, murder, abuse, drowning, arson and a slew of other events. I questioned the pace at which these things happened, but Harrison is artful in her writing and most of the events influence the plot in important ways.
Pacing issues aside, “The Widow Nash” delivers an excellent story. Harrison has crafted an atmospheric historical novel with original characters for readers to enjoy. Her writing is sophisticated and quick witted, ideal for a pleasurable summer read.