George V. Reilly

Review: Bleeding Kansas

Bleeding Kansas
Title: Bleeding Kansas
Author: Sara Paretsky
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Signet
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 593
Keywords: fiction
Reading period: 4–13 February, 2009

In the 1850s, three anti-slavery families settled next to each other in rural Kansas: the Grelliers, the Schapens, and the rich Fremantles. Seven gen­er­a­tions later, the last of the Fremantles is gone, the Grelliers are pro­gres­sive farmers, and the Schapens are bel­liger­ent fun­da­men­tal­ists. Gina Haring, a Wiccan lesbian from New York, housesits the Fremantle mansion, while she tries to pick up the pieces of her life. In­ad­ver­tent­ly, she triggers a cascade of changes. Most notably, the Grellier son, at odds with his anti-war mother, enlists and is killed in Iraq, sending her into a deep depression.

Paretsky has moved her focus from her series of novels about V.I. Warshawski, a female PI in Chicago, to rural Kansas, where Paretsky grew up. It’s her take on What’s the Matter With Kansas?, the trans­for­ma­tion of a populist anti-slavery state into a deep-red locus of re­ac­tionar­ies.

It’s a mostly sym­pa­thet­ic portrait of beleagured farmers. The main characters, Jim Grellier; his 14-year-old daughter, Lara; and Robbie Schapen, the 14-year-old misfit, are well-drawn and believable. The romance that develops between Lara and Robbie is tender and touching. The rest of the Schapens, though, are something of a caricature.

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