Putnam, May 2001, 24.95, 321 pp.
In 1890 San Francisco, forty-year old spinster Lizzie Hayes, daughter of a wealthy man, has made few friends even though she belongs to two churches and has been a member of the Ladies Relief Home for a decade. Her father is outraged by Lizzie's rejection of every male he dumps on her. Though independent and feisty within the taut rules of high society, overall Lizzie remains the obedient child in spite of her age.
When Ellen Mary Pleasant meets Lizzie the world changes for the latter. The worldly Mrs. Pleasant has been involved in many unacceptable practices, at least that is the distasteful rumors about her. Some say she is a voodoo queen though she works as a charity leader. Other claim she is a retired prostitute who laundered her ill-gained money to fund Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Regardless, Lizzie sees Mrs. Pleasant as a role model, having lived life to the fullest. Mrs. Pleasant encourages Lizzie to be all that she can be and damn societal dictates that corset the real Lizzie. With Mrs. Pleasant as a guide and five-year old Jenny as an angel in need, Lizzie begins to take charge of her life.
“To thine own self be true” is the central theme of a superb historical character study that focuses on the lives of San Franciscans during the Naughty Nineties. The story line uses humor, pathos, and tidbits of Americana to provide a full picture of society especially that of women. Fans of Americana fiction will relish SISTER NOON and seek Karen Joy Fowler's previous historical fictions (see SARAH CANARY).
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner