The Memory Weaver, by Jane Kirkpatrick

memoryweaverTitle: The Memory Weaver

Author: Kirkpatrick, Jane (Author’s Website)

Genre: Christian Fiction, Western, Historical Fiction

Bibliographic: Revell, 352 pages, Paperback List Price $14.99, Audiobook List Price $27.99, ISBNs 9780800722326, 9781628997576, 9781441228208

Publication Date: September 1, 2015

Rating: ★★★☆☆/♥♥♥♡♡ (The rating scale is here).

Appeal Factors: Multiple perspectives, Pacific Northwest fiction, atmospheric, homespun, descriptive, engaging

Why I picked it up:  Westerns and Christian fiction are my least favorite genres, so I thought I’d try to hit both boxes at once and get it over with.

S.I.A.S.: As a child, Eliza Spalding Warren survived a horrific event; her husband wants to return.

Summary: In 1847, Eliza Spalding was taken hostage and forced to serve as a translator during the events of the Whitman Massacre. She is returned to her parents, Presbyterian missionaries Henry and Eliza Hart Spalding, physically unharmed but emotionally scarred. When her mother passes away a few years later, she is forced to tend to her family — she must take care of her father, her brother, and two sisters so that her father can continue to spread the word of God to the Niimiipu (Nez Perce). Eventually, Henry Spalding remarries but his new wife, Rachel, is essentially useless (she doesn’t even know how to boil an egg), and so Eliza must continue to care for her family. Eliza knows that her father will never let her marry and live on her own, so when she meets a man named Andrew Warren she plans to marry him with or without her father’s permission. When Eliza is seventeen and Andrew is twenty-three, they elope. Andrew agrees to be baptized to please his new wife, and agrees to give up gambling and drinking, but there’s one thing he can’t abandon: his dreams. He wants their family to relocate, and so they do — back to the same area where Eliza was held captive all those years ago.

Eliza’s father decides to follow her back to the Willamette Valley, and eventually gives her her mother’s diary (passages of which are interspersed throughout the book). When Eliza reads the diary, she is stunned to discover that here memories of the Whitman Incident don’t quite concur with what actually happened. Eliza must try to reconcile the past she remembers with the past as it actually occurred — and with the future she hopes to attain.

Evaluation: Given my own personal biases, I really didn’t expect much from this title, and I would say that my expectations held true. I can see that it was well written and I understand that this will be a good fit for quite a lot of people, it just wasn’t a good fit for me. I will probably recommend it to Christian fiction fans, and maybe to people who want Westerns but don’t want violence.

The writing was fairly straightforward, and I was impressed by the author’s decision to have Eliza refer to the native nations by their own chosen names. It made her seem like a real person who was trying to be respectful, in spite of the horrible experience she’d had. I was also excited when Eliza continued to struggle with her fear, and when she reassured herself that not every Native person was her enemy. I thought that Kirkpatrick handled her emotions very skillfully, especially considering how easy it would have been for her to fall back on the myth of the Noble Savage.

I was also impressed by the historical detail that went into the work. While I am not an expert on the Whitman Massacre, I have read a bit about his life since there is a statue of him in the building where I work which I have often had to explain to tourists. One of the reasons that I don’t often read historical fiction is that there is a tendency for authors to provide far too much detail, explaining events in a way that pulls the reader out of the story — or to go too far the other way, and explain nothing (leaving the reader perplexed). The Memory Weaver does a good job in striking a balance between the two. It provides enough detail about the massacre that the reader can follow the plot, but no so much that you feel like you’re reading a historical monograph.

The setting is also extremely well-described. I didn’t feel like I needed to do more research to understand the type of world Eliza was living in and the type of problems she was facing.

I listened to this book as an audiobook, and it was fine. The narration was not phenomenal, but it didn’t have any major problems, either. The woman who read the diary entries had a voice that was quite distinct from the woman who read the main thrust of the story, which I thought was a nice touch. Both narrators did a good job with the Native American words, at least to my untrained ear.

Significance: This book was nominated for a Spur Award, and Jane Kirkpatrick is a hugely popular Christian fiction author.

Readalikes: Sugar Fork, by Walter L. Larimore. The Trouble with Patience, by Maggie Brendan. My Father’s World, by Michael R. Phillips.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Before reading this book, how much did you know about Marcus Whitman and the Christian missions of the Pacific Northwest before reading The Memory Weaver? Did the book conform with what you knew?
  2. Why does Eliza take her mother’s wedding ring and keep it hidden for so long? What did the ring mean to her? Why does she eventually offer it to Rachel?
  3. Why is Andrew so ashamed of his past? How does he come to peace with what he’s done? How is is journey to acceptance different from Eliza’s?
  4. Why does Eliza decide to follow Andrew back to Walla Walla? Why does she decide to face her fears?
  5. How did Eliza misremember the events of the Whitman Incident? How had she been letting memory rule her life? How did her life change after she realized her mistake?

Lists and Awards: Spur Award Nominee for Best Western Historical Novel (2016).

Professional Reviews:  Publishers Weekly. RT Book Review. Historical Novel Society.

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