The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain’s recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde’s conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing.
The story is set in the late Nineteenth Century. The background is that of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment for ‘gross indecency’. In those days, the government rule stated that gay sexual acts were a criminal offense. Set in a small Nevada town, the story focuses upon the reaction of people to this news. But then the town has its own secrets as well. Under the picture perfect façade there’s domestic violence, sexual violence and incest. And amidst it all is our protagonist Mildred Dunlap. Blessed with power but cursed with a manly appearance, Mildred is generous at heart. But very few people bother to look beyond appearance. Mildred also has a secret – she is hopelessly in love with her cousin Edra. When the villagers are quick to react to Oscar Wilde incident, she is right to be worried. So, to keep herself from suspicion, she comes with an idea that that cultivates unexpected results.
First of all, I loved the author’s amazing capability to draw up her characters. She has created and developed each and every character with much care. So much so, that as a reader and loved, cheered, hated and felt a range of other emotions for and along with the characters in the book. The plot of the story is something that you cannot treat lightly. It deals with a lot of complicated issues – or rather should I say that it deals with the shades of human nature? Either way, Paulette has expertly dealt with a lot of grave issues in this book that made me stop and think too. Also, the way the book has been written – I mean the way the characters spoke or behaved, I did not have any trouble believing that the story was set so far back. I may not be an expert on that era, but when reading this book made me imagine in black and white, it just felt right.
But what saddened me the most is the realization that most of the issues depicted and discussed in this book are issues that we face even today. I mean haven’t we developed even a little bit in the last hundred years? I mean sure we have Cable TV, iPhone and Macbooks now. But as people, we are still the same - have not progressed at all.
Overall, great book and a must read – unless of course you’d rather stay away from the controversial stuff.
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