A disintegrating family. A pivotal time in American history. A young woman: offbeat, different, evocative of the evolving women of the 60s, Vietnam, and raised feminine consciousness. These are just some of the plotlines in this delicately fashioned first novel. Author A.G.S. Johnson shows her skill in writing and blending what she knows, from her midwesterner's roots and her adopted California, into the legal mystery around which the story revolves.
The Czermanski family has swayed public opinion for years in Wausaukeesha, Wisconsin. The makers of fine sausage, the family has a power over the town as its primary employer that has never been questioned until now. For the four daughters and their wealthy and aloof father, the ties that bind them are ropelike and have a stranglehold. Kip's mother died when she was very young. Her father subconsciously seems to blame her for her mother's death. A slew of nannies parade through her life, and her sisters, Sarah, Sybel, and Samantha, have all had their own demons to face. Sarah, a nun, is the reason they are all gathered together, for at the age of 39 she has passed away. Kip has reluctantly returned to the town she left six years before to mourn with her dysfunctional and coldly distant family.
From the moment Kip returns, her life spins out of control. There is a murder and she stands as the sole suspect. Her brother-in-law, her former lover, has been found dead... in her bed. She doesn't remember it, she doesn't accept it, and she expects her family, however detached and withdrawn, to tighten the ranks around her in support. Instead, she finds herself in jail, charged with murder. Her employer back in sunny California, sends Phil, a dynamic and talented criminal lawyer, to defend Kip. Phil, short for Philomena, is a good example of where women are headed in this newly awakened, contentiously protesting society. She sweeps into Wausaukeesha, and takes over from the lackadaisical lawyers Kip's father has chosen.
As Kip tells Phil the story, in a series of flashback-like reminiscences, we learn details about the family's history and their profound inability to act in a close-knit familial way. Approximately half the book reveals these stories, which give us almost all we need to know about how Kip got away and what has happened since her reluctant return. From there, the courtroom becomes the primary battleground. Revelations are made, willingly and not-so-willingly, about family history and previously mentioned demons. Sybel has always hated Kip, and now, with her ex-husband dead, supposedly killed by her sister, she is determined that Kip will pay. Samantha struggles to stay neutral, to keep the peace, and to act as the family member who tries to maintain sanity in the face of hysteria. Their father stands disapproving and critical, divisive and bitter in his behavior toward Kip.
The dialog and rhythm of the book and its tales are wonderful. So many of us may be able to relate to this family's tribulations, and may also remember those momentous years of the 1960s when the world was changing and women were coming into their own within society. War protests, bra-burnings, equal rights, and more are the backstory for Johnson's novel. Knowing the times, learning the history of this family from Kip's point of view, and reading with amazement the courtroom denouement makes us forget that this is not a true story! An excellent first book, The Sausagemaker's Daughters has a place on my bookshelf to read again.
Read an excerpt from this book.
A.G.S. Johnson always intended to be a writer. Yet raised in a Midwestern family of five girls, she embarked on a career in the corporate world that would allow her to explore why men were treated differently than women. Still, writing remained a dream and she returned to school where she earned a masters degree in fiction writing from the University of Southern California and proceeded to pursue her lifelong ambition. Her debut novel, The Sausage Maker's Daughters, was 12 years in the making. Visit her website.
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