Sophronia L. by Tim Bridwell brings the reader back to 19th century Americas, beginning off the coast of New England at a time when whaling is fading as the predominate method of obtaining oil, soon to be replaced by mountain drilling in Pennsylvania:
Sophronia Lambert, a schoolteacher on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, lives a quiet life; that is until Nantucket whaling captain James Folger comes ashore. Realizing he is the man who killed her deaf brother, she decides to pursue vengeance – first at home, then at sea-sailing to the far side of the world as his bride. As she grapples with madness and morality, Sophronia’s quest mirrors that of her island community: to find a way forward amidst the pressures of a brutal industry, a nation mired in Civil War, and a past darker than the ocean’s abyss.
When Sophronia Lambert elopes and joins the Eliza Jane as Captain Folger's wife, her uncle Keziah Lambert and her love interest, Absalom Cook, worry that she will be “lost at sea” as was her late brother, Jonathan. If Captain Folger doesn't murder her himself, Sophronia may fall victim to the mental illness that has plagued her since she found her mother dead at the hands of her father.
Growing up on the small island of Martha's Vineyard is surely poor preparation for the brutality of an all-male crew set on the bloody business of whaling, as it proved to be for Sophronia's brother, except that this Lambert comes knowing that her true nemesis is the Quaker Captain who obsesses over numbers and superstition.
Bridwell's vividly poetic style draws the reader deep into the horrors of the human heart, whether it be Sophriona and Captain Folger's mental illnesses, the sailors' chauvinistic savagery, or the bloody process of spearing and stripping the soulful whales. But like Bridwell's realistic characters, his dark themes are tempered by the other side of humanity; the sudden joys, small pleasures, and even love. In this way, Sophriona's journey on board the Eliza Jane is like a mental breakdown, where she is separated from the two people who understand and love her most as she traverses what for her are uncharted waters.
Sophronia L. boasts the descriptive language of Hemingway and the complex drama of Faulkner, taking readers on a haunting journey through Sophronia's mental illness, manifest through her obsession with Captain Folger's death. I would absolutely recommend Sophronia L. as a superb novel for those who enjoy literary and historic fiction.
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Find out more about Tim Bridwell at [TimBridwell.com]