What an interesting book this is.
Meet Willa Knox, a freelance writer with adult children who had planned for a secure and comfortable future. Instead, she finds that she and her academic husband are homeless and jobless. She inherits an old house in a place called Vineland. Her husband manages to pick up a short term job as a lecturer at a nearby University. The house is almost uninhabitable and the cost of renovations prohibitive. Added to her woes is her cantankerous, bigoted father- in- law who requires almost round the clock care. Her highly educated son, Zeke struggles under the weight of school debt and a new baby. Her high spirited daughter, Tig whom she barely understands comes home from Cuba and the house is filled with people all of whom have problems. Desperate for help to fix the house, Willa begins looking for funding from the Historical Preservation Society and finds out about the history, an earlier occupant and the utopian community set up as Vineland.
Rewind to the 1880s when Thatcher Greenwood finds himself living in the newly established Vineland with his young wife, mother- in- law and sister- in- law. He’s been appointed science teacher at the local high school and the discoveries by Darwin are causing an explosion of divisive thinking. Thatcher comes to loggerheads with the Creationist and conservative Principal.
“Thatcher thought of the riot he’d seen in the Boston square, the scarecrow Darwin hanging from the lamppost, the crowd terrified witless at the prospect of shedding comfortable beliefs and accepting new ones.”
The parallel between the two timelines is fascinating. Conservative America in 2016 where climate change is denied by the powers that be, sits side by side in Darwinist America of the 1880s. The founder of the utopian Vineland, Captain Landis had established and controlled a community of Christian ideals. Science comes along to disrupt and beleaguer the conservatives in both timelines.
The common bond between Willa and Thatcher is that they feel left out, unsheltered and stuck in a crumbling mess. In the mix is Mary Treat the next-door neighbour who was a real-life scientist of the 1880s in her own right, add in a mix of suffragettes and murder and things really get interesting.
The characters are fascinating and well developed but I think the star of the show is Tig, the younger daughter. I loved the way Tig became the teacher and almost a saviour for her mother who sees her daughter in a very new light. The writing is very thought-provoking. Sometimes I found the scientific discourse on plants and animals a little on the slow side, and for some, this might be a little difficult. But my advice is to take it in, think about it and enjoy. This book will keep giving long after you’ve finished it.