Many of the books I feature on Ascroft, eh? are set in past centuries. So, for a bit of variety, I’m moving forward into living memory (mine anyway!) to review Becoming Lin by Tricia Dower. I’ve just finished reading the book so I’m jotting down my thoughts while it’s still fresh in my mind.
Here’s what the publisher Caitlin Press says about Becoming Lin:
“It’s 1965. Twenty-two-year-old Linda Wise despairs of escaping her overprotective parents and the town of Stony River where far too many know she was sexually assaulted as a teenager. Deliverance arrives in the form of marriage to the charismatic, twenty-six-year-old Ronald Brunson, a newly ordained Methodist minister who ignites in her a dormant passion for social justice. He tells her war and racial discrimination are symptoms of the “moral rot” destroying the country, conjuring up something dark and rancid in her mind, thrilling in its wickedness. He sweeps her away from New Jersey to serve with him at a church in a speck-on-the-map prairie town in Minnesota. What lies ahead for her over the next seven years is the subject of Tricia Dower’s penetrating study of a marriage and a woman’s evolving sense of self as she confronts the fear that keeps her from an unfettered future. Becoming Lin conjures the turbulent era of Freedom Riders for civil rights, Vietnam war resistance, the US government’s war against the resisters, the push for equal rights for women and the unraveling of the traditional marriage contract—an era that resonates today in tenacious racism and sexism, perpetual war and wide-reaching government surveillance.”
I really enjoyed this story. It provides fascinating insight into the emotional and social development of a young woman, and the evolution of a couple’s marriage, as well as the changes and growth that were occurring in the United States during the era in which the story is set.
The main character, Linda Brunton (nee Wise) or Lin, rings true as a person coping with past emotional trauma. She is also believable as a woman coming of age in an era when feminism was challenging society to make momentous changes. Her husband, Ron, is well drawn and believable as a minister and as a man struggling with, and often conflicted by, his wife’s growing self-awareness. I felt a connection to Lin and to some of the minor characters such as Ron’s friend, Artie, the unconventional minister, and Lin’s nurse friend in her apartment building in Minneapolis. Minor characters who are striking or eccentric always linger in my mind.
The author deftly uses details of the settings in the story, particularly at the rectory and surrounding area where Lin lives in a small town in Minnesota, to reveal the character’s worries, fears and motivations. The author’s vivid descriptions of the rectory and the surrounding landscape evoke a range of responses from readers: from unease at a veiled threat Lin perceives in the environment to satisfaction as Lin begins to take charge of her life within the familiarity and refuge of the rectory.
I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia I had as the novel took me back to a time that I just barely remember and evoked the mood of the era for me.
This novel is a great read and would recommend it to fans of women’s fiction as well as historical fiction readers. Although the story is set several decades ago, Lin’s emotional journey will easily resonate with modern readers as an historical and contemporary tale.
About Tricia Dower:
Tricia hails from Rahway, New Jersey. You can find her on the “Rahway’s Own” website with other individuals the town has recognized for innovation and creativity. A graduate of Gettysburg College and a Phi Mu, she built a career in business before reinventing herself as a writer in 2002. Her literary work has crossed borders and won awards. She expanded a story from her Shakespeare-inspired collection, Silent Girl (Inanna 2008) into Stony River, which was published in both Canada (Penguin 2012) and the US (Leapfrog 2016). She gave a character from Stony River her own novel in Becoming Lin (Caitlin Press 2016), now available in the US.