The good: A beautifully written story.
The not-so-good: I read it rather quickly!
Why I chose it: Historical fiction, mysterious strangers, a strong female character…what’s not to like? Thanks to Pan Macmillan for the copy.
Publisher: Mantle (Pan Macmillan)
Setting: Junction, Utah (USA)
Rating: 9 out of 10
The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber doesn’t look any different from your regular novel, but this book punches well above its weight. It’s a quietly powerful novel with a simple premise – a woman is alone in a tiny town in the middle of winter when a stranger appears. It takes a very skilled writer to make this into an engrossing read that is both sensitive and strong, but Weisgarber has it in spades.
The story is set in the depths of winter in Utah Territory in a tiny town called Junction. (I strongly recommend looking up Fruita or Capitol Reef National Park to get an idea of how gorgeous this area is and also how isolated it would be covered in snow). The town contains only a few families, all members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints but not as connected with the church as their leaders would like them to be. Deborah’s husband Samuel has been due to return home from travelling long ago, but that date has been and gone. Then one day, a stranger to the town knocks on Deborah’s door. Some of the townspeople have helped those Saints escaping the law for polygamy, and Deborah knows this. (In fact, she’s been part of it, directing the men on). But nobody ever shows up in winter. This stranger must have something more to hide. But his presence brings another stranger which will change the town forever…
The Glovemaker is beautifully written. Even the simplest of Deborah’s chores are described carefully, giving a clear picture of what a hard life it would have been during the winters in such inhospitable territory. When the drama starts, the choices Deborah and friend Nels must make are complex, framed by their roles in society, the church and their gender. Deborah is a very strong woman who plays a leading role in the handling of the strangers but to some of the other townspeople, she is an enigma. She’s alone with no children – something to be wary of for not fitting what is seen as normal. Nels is similar as he has no wife or children either, but his sex means that he is listened to with respect. But when things come down to the wire, all that is irrelevant as Nels and Deborah work together to try to help both strangers. Sometimes their way of seeing the situation is very different, but they complement each other in trying to do the right thing.
Overhanging the whole situation is the weather. The snow and darkness envelope the entire narrative, almost becoming another character. It creates an oppressive, closed in atmosphere but also adds to the isolation Deborah feels – from some of the other townspeople, from Samuel and because of her place in the town. Overall, it’s a story that takes its time to unfold but is well worth it for the history and characters.