Friday, September 30, 2016

Woman's Work, Circa 1915

Review: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart


Constance Kopp was an unusual woman for her time. Faced with harassment from a local factory owner, she did not wait for men to come to her defense; she armed herself to defend her rural New Jersey farm and her sisters from the man and his criminal associates.

Amy Stewart excels at presenting true tales in an enjoyable way. Wicked Plants and The Drunken Botanist are examples drawn from her gardens. The novels—yes, there's a second out already, and eventually "maybe as many as 10 novels...," according to the author—rise from learning about the Kopp sisters while she was researching The Drunken Botanist.

Stewart's path to discovery would mean searching reels of microfilm and boxes of old newsprint, photos and documents to find the bare bones of the tale. Fleshing out the skeletal truth to create the fictionalized novel was a job peculiarly suited to her, considering the whimsical and fantastic The Last Bookstore in America. In that all-fictional account, Stewart took real-life experience in her bookstore and local knowledge of stoner culture in Humboldt County, and parlayed it into an entertaining tale of battling diminishing book sales in the age of the Kindle. (Ironically, the novel is still only available as an eBook, making it the only book of Stewart's that I do not possess in a signed version.)

In Girl Waits With Gun, we learn Constance Kopp's back-story. How did she become a woman capable of hunting through the seedier sides of the city, in an age when respectable women even entered a hotel by a separate door to avoid the appearance of impropriety? What gave her the courage to stand up against a man whom many men feared?

Her story is fascinating, not least because of the ways our lives have changed in such a brief time. Women in this time did not votewere not even citizens in a legal senseand were restricted to a tiny range of jobs outside the home. And yet here was a woman who ignored the mores and conventions of the day and found a way to do what she needed.

Brava, Constance! And brava, Amy Stewart! I can't wait to begin Lady Kopp Makes Trouble, the next episode in the lives of the daring Kopp sisters.