Historical Fiction, Feminist Retelling
Book of the Month club, Indie Next, American and Canadian Librarians October 2022 selection, Gillian Flynn recommends on The Today Show
A vivid reimagining of Hester Prynne and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and a journey into the haunting legacy of the Salem Witch Trials that illuminates the price of creativity and freedom for women in every age.
Isobel Gamble, 19-year-old seamstress and embroiderer, is carrying generations of secrets when she flees debtor’s prison and Scotland in 1829 with her apothecary husband, Edward. Only days after they’ve landed in Salem’s bustling seaport, Edward abruptly joins a ship as a medic––leaving Isobel penniless and alone in a strange country, forced to make her way by any means possible.
When she meets a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two are instantly drawn to one other: Nat is a man haunted by ancestors who sent innocent women to the gallows, while Isobel is an unusually gifted needleworker troubled by her own strange talents. As the weeks pass and her husband’s safe return grows unlikely, Nat and Isobel grow dangerously closer. Together they are a muse and a dark storyteller—the enchanter and the enchanted. But which is which, and who is in control of what happens next?
In this sensuous and hypnotizing tale, a young immigrant woman grapples with our country’s complicated past, and learns that America’s ideas of freedom and liberty often fall short of their promise. Interwoven with Isobel and Nathaniel’s story is a vivid interrogation of who gets to be a “real” American in the first half of the 19th century, a depiction of the early days of the Underground Railroad in New England, and atmospheric interstitials that capture the long history of “unusual” women being accused of witchcraft. Meticulously researched yet evocatively imagined, Laurie Lico Albanese’s Hester is a timeless tale of art, ambition, and desire that examines the roots of female creative power and the men who try to shut it down.