The Sisters Kennington
Bedside Books (American Book Publishing), 2004. Quality Paperback:
Suggested retail price: $16.00 (US)
Imagine Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm meets The Addams Family in BrighamYoung's Utah, and you get an idea of what kind of a ride this book is.
From the first page, I didn't quite know what to make of this story. TheKennington family has been called by the Brethren to leave Parowan andestablish a new colony in the desert. Ebenezer is the father of thefamily. It isn't clear that he's done anything notable other than invent amachine and shakes, makes noise, and produces a foul odor, much to thedelight of the purchasers of his machine. His wife, Hazel, is much moresober-minded, not much given to triviality or humor. After Eb and Hazelare killed by a bear, their daughters -- Sarah Grace, Elizah and Emmeline-- are taken in by various families in the colony. But they all ultimatelyleave their adopted homes, return to their homestead to properly bury theirparents, and pick up life as close to normal as possible.
Each girl has a special talent. Sarah Grace, the eldest, is a ravingbeauty, pursued by a young man from town (to her annoyance). Elizah hasthe ability of talking to animals. (The irony of naming her Elizah, andthinking, naturally, of Dr. Doolittle, making her "Elizah Doolittle," didnot escape me, although I don't know if it was deliberate.) Finally, theyoungest, Emmeline, is skilled at making beautiful objects from beads, atalent that would bring some misery to their little family.
Trouble begins when a mysterious Native American woman visits Emmeline.She moves like the wind, leaving no tracks. The other girls think Emmelineis imagining this woman. But the woman, named Kuiceyetsa, is being pursuedby an evil spirit, and she and the girls are in danger. Together they mustface the enemy and overcome.
Along the way, we meet some eccentric characters. Several of the women inthe colony seem a little batty. Elizah's "friends" -- a man who can changeinto a boy, a lion and an eagle who obey her commands -- help fill out apicture of a story set in an historical setting, but clearly populated bycharacters of the imagination.
Although I liked the book, I thought it was much too brief. So manythreads remain unresolved. I wanted to know just what Eb Kennington'smachine was actually used for. And, in the opening pages, Eb is shown tobe a man of great wit and sarcasm, much to the dismay of his devout spouse.I would have liked to learn more about him. Further, as the story is drawnfrom local legend, I certainly would have liked to know more about theselegends. The book could have been double in size, and it would haveremained a good tale.
One further note: there are several incidents of pretty graphic violence inthis book. I tried to put myself in the place of a young child hearingthis story, and wondered if a narrator wouldn't have to tone it down a bit.
It is the habit of many publishers to indicate the "genre" of a book in theupper-left-hand corner of the back cover. "Fiction/Magical Realism" is howthis book is described. I have no idea what "Magical Realism" is about.There's certainly a lot of magic in this book. And it teaches some goodlessons about community -- no matter how batty the neighbors are -- andabout the importance of family and friends. At times the imaginationsoars, something every child, and every adult, should appreciate as aspecial gift.
It should also be noted that, although the families are Mormon, I didn'tfind any explicit Mormonism in the book, other than an occasional referenceto Brigham Young. The "Mormonism" was consigned, much like the characters,to the imagination.
Mr. Anderson has written a fine, but too brief, story. I hope he opts toenlarge it and fill in some of the gaps. I will be the first to read thenew book.
Jeff Needle June 9, 2004
© 2004 Jeff Needle