Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bleeding Kansas: Great novel about feuding priorities in modern-day Kansas

Bleeding KansasBleeding Kansas by Sara Paretsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a Sara Paretsky fan, I knew this book would diverge from her VI Warshawski novels. The title comes from the bloodshed that occurred in Kansas before the civil war, when Kansas was a free state and neighboring Missouri was a slavery state.

It's a sprawling story of a community near Lawrence, filled with conservative farmers, right-wing fundamentalists, visiting Wiccans, and hormone-ridden teenagers. The plot centers around a farm family, in which the history-obsessed mom gets involved in the anti-war movement, embarassing her oldest son, who eventually enlists and is killed in Iraq.

Paretsky is ambitious in this novel, packing the story with tons of characters (perhaps too many) and plot elements. Some reviewers have accused her of creating one-dimensional characters, which might be true. Nevertheless, I could not put the book down.

I would have liked to have had more resolution at the end of the novel (for the "bad guys" to get their comeuppance...), but I still enjoyed the book.

If you are interested in learning more about the conflict between Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War era, I highly recommend The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, by Jane Smiley.

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