Queens Never Make Bargains
by Nancy Means Wright



Red Barn Books of Vermont, 2014. ISBN 978-1-935-92247-6.
Reviewed by Helene Benardo
Posted on 12/16/2014

Fiction: Mainstream

Queens Never Make Bargains is a multi-generational, rather episodic novel, based loosely on the family of the author. Starting with the seventeen-year-old Jessie arriving in America from Scotland, in 1912, it goes on to tell her story as well as those of her step-daughter and her daughter. The book ends at the end of World War II.

Jessie has been sent to care for the three children of her aunt who has died in childbirth. She is met by a rather dour uncle, and they spend the several hours' ride to Vermont in near silence.

In addition to being a nanny, Jessie, who had planned to become a teacher, teaches immigrants who have settled in the small Vermont factory town. She develops a relationship with one, a young Polish poet and, by the time he leaves for World War 1, she is pregnant with his child. When it becomes clear that he will not return, Jessie marries the father of the children she has been caring for. It's not the warmest of marriages, but it survives.

The book goes on to tell the story of Victoria, the headstrong daughter of Jessie's aunt. We follow her as she breaks hearts and rules with impunity, plunges into anything new or exciting and has a daughter whom she gives up for adoption. Victoria's true love is flying and, after toying with the idea of becoming an actress, she finds her calling as a pilot in World War II. As with the story of Jessie, we are left with an unfinished portrait of a rather unhappy woman.

The last section of the book is devoted to Grace, the daughter of Jessie and Pavel, her Polish lover. Again—there's frustration involved. She wants to be a veterinarian but is not accepted into the relevant school. She falls in love with Daniel who loves Victoria and has his child—a daughter, of course.

The last scene of the book has Jessie, her mother (who we find out had Jessie out of wedlock), Grace and Grace's daughter waiting at the dock for a troop ship. On it will be both Daniel and the last surviving child of the original group Jessie was hired to take care of, Duncan.

The book ends on an upbeat note but, after having read about 33 years of some happiness, much despair and depression and several factual errors regarding Jewish practices (there are no Saturday night services in a synagogue and incense is never used) I came to the end with a sense of unfulfillment.

Read an excerpt from this book.


Nancy Means Wright has written novels, non-fiction and has worked as an actress and director. Visit her website.

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