In a Grove of Maples (First in the Series: Sheltering Trees)
Historical Fiction. 224 pages. Self-published. July 1, 2021.
Reviewed by Joan Bauer
Grief can be hard to portray in fiction; too often, it devolves into posturing. I don’t know where Jenny Knipfer had to look to find the grief of a young mother over the loss of her first child. But it appears to flow from the riches of her own wise heart.
In the late 1890s, newlyweds Beryl and Edward Massart leave their families in Quebec to start their life together on a farm in northern Wisconsin. The work is hard, and their relationship is strained at first. Edward is late with the spring planting; and when the corn planter breaks, he frightens Beryl by speaking sharply to her. Beryl shyly shares the news of her pregnancy even as she fears that Edward might not exactly be overjoyed. Later, when Edward invites her to go to town with him, “[h]e saw love in her hazel eyes but also something else—surprise. Doesn’t she think I want her with me? He smiled with a reserve he wished he didn’t have to wear, but how could he give his heart fully to a woman who didn’t expect his love?” Without consulting Beryl, Edward accepts an offer to work as a teamster in a logging camp over the winter, leaving her to manage the farm on her own. He enlists his cousin Cedric, a wealthy banker, to watch over her, but as Beryl’s friend Nola says, “there’s something about him that sets my hat crooked.” Cedric is too attentive and soon falls in love with Beryl, who must remain focused on her absent husband and their unborn child. Meanwhile, Edward faces dangerous rivalries at the logging camp.
The scenes where Beryl grieves the death of her son Lyle are among the best in the book. Beryl is sustained by a strong faith, and she is surrounded by wise friends whose daily preoccupations (quilting, canning, farming) suit their historical moment. Such respectful treatment pays off in verisimilitude, even as it delivers strong female characters at the novel’s center. And while Beryl’s diary entries frame the action nicely, I found myself wishing they looked forward instead of backward: we are always hopping back a few months to catch up with her reflections. But after a difficult winter marked by separation and loss, the arc of Beryl’s and Edward’s relationship bends toward real growth. With this first entry, Jenny’s new series “Sheltering Trees” is off to a fine start.
Reviewer Joan Bauer holds a Master’s degree in English from Marquette University and has worked as a trust officer in a bank. In the course of raising three children, she has chaired fundraisers, served on boards, and volunteered frequently at church and school. She is working on her third novel.
Wisconsin Writers Association
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