‘The House Girl’7/24/2013
Courtesy of Beaverdale Books
Review by Cathryn Lang
The publication of Tara Conklin’s debut novel, “The House Girl,” has been eagerly anticipated after it was named the No. 1 “Indie Next Pick” for February. It was worth the wait. This novel will become a book club favorite.
The lives of two strong women from very different eras are intertwined through the theme of art. Carolina is starting her career climb at a prestigious law firm in New York City. As the daughter of artists, she alternates between the artistic and corporate worlds — not always comfortably. Josephine is a house girl in 1852 for genteel, but impoverished, Southern plantation owners Robert and LuAnn Bell. Josephine longs to “run” but finds some happiness through her extraordinary artistic ability. The women share another commonality besides their art connection. Both have been denied the opportunity to know a significant person in their lives: Lina never knew her mother, and Josephine never knew her child.
Their lives merge when Lina is assigned to a class-action lawsuit intended to compensate the descendants of slaves. She is also intrigued by rumors in the art world that the highly regarded portraits of the Bell Foundation were incorrectly credited to LuAnn Bell. Speculation is that the house girl, Josephine, was the actual artist. Lina challenges herself to locate a descendent of Josephine to become the face of the lawsuit.
Connections among characters, places and events create enough suspense to keep you turning pages long into the night. Conklin has created a multi-layered book that has you so absorbed in the lives of these characters that you, too, feel as though you are living through America’s evolving views of slavery. How appropriate during the sesquicentennial year of the Emancipation Proclamation! CV
Cathryn Lang is a retired literacy leader for elementary schools. She now has time to read adult books, also!