Jacqueline Friedland's debut historical novel, Trouble the Water, opens in 1842 with a horrendous fire near Charleston, SC, when angry slave owners turned arsonists seek retaliation against Douglas Elling to punish him for his sympathetic attitudes toward slavery. His wife and five-year-old daughter are trapped in their antebellum mansion and perish in that fire.
The author's strength is in her detailed research as well as her character development. Depictions of the planter class, American slavery, the Underground Railroad, grief, redemption, jealousy, betrayal, secrets and pride thread their way through the story. The plot is layered with unexpected twists.
Milton, Douglas's protectorate, while a boy in England, has fallen on hard times in England, while immigrant Douglas prospers in the U.S. Three years after the fire Milton sends his seventeen-year-old daughter Abigail from England to live in Douglas's home. By then his mansion is rebuilt and Douglas provides Abigail with a tutor who devotes herself to teaching her the needed skills to fit into southern aristocratic society.
Douglas is cold and aloof, an almost reluctant host when Abigail arrives, still deeply entrenched in grief. Abigail falls ill and Douglas is struck by guilt at the selfish way he's treated her since her arrival. Through her convalescence an attraction begins to simmer between the protagonist and her benefactor, though buried beneath the societal rituals of the time. Abigail vanishes after feeling betrayed by Douglas, and the twists of her quest for independence as she pursues a teaching career in a New England boarding school are deftly described.
Trouble the Water is a story that takes you to another time and place; the characters and their tales will stay with you long after the last page. Readers who are interested in Civil War history will enjoy this novel.
Jacqueline Friedland holds a B.A. from the U of PA and a JD from NYU Law School. She practiced as an attorney in New York before returning to school to receive her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York with her husband, four children and a tiny dog. This is her first novel.
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