This extraordinary trio of stories by Jess Wells is well titled, because each tale speaks of the slender tether that ties each of us to our sense of what is normal in our lives – our wellbeing, our livelihood, our happiness and safety. Everything can change in a moment, and, inevitably, it does.
The three stories are subtly linked, again by a slender tether, though each stands alone. The first tale introduces a Christine de Pizan who is very different than I expected, powerful yet flawed. She is a person I can believe in: medieval woman, intellectual, gifted writer, mainstay of her family, independent spirit. Monique, the woman in the third story, is also convincing as she discovers her strength, develops a skill she can take pride in, and stubbornly makes her own way in the world.
Both Christine and Monique make mistakes, but they (and several of the more sympathetic male characters as well) persevere. They think, act, and sometimes make a mess of things, like real human beings in all times and places. These stories seem to me to celebrate human ingenuity, resourcefulness, and resilience.
One theme Wells explores in considerable depth is the very personal nature of one's relationship to his or her work. Pride of craftsmanship, intellectual curiosity, ambition, renunciation of one's talents, and finding joy in work all play their parts. The writing is sure, the voice arresting and original. Places come alive; the seasons are painted skillfully, there for the reader to experience. In the third story, Wells takes a common historical fiction cliché and deftly turns it on its head, to the delight of this reader, at least.
Highly recommended to readers interested in the lives of medieval people who were neither royalty nor members of the nobility, and who are all the more individual and interesting for that.
Causes Jess Wells Supports
Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, Friends of the Urban Forest, The Heifer Project, Forests Forever, NRDC