This post is something different for me. I generally do not indulge in book reviews, largely because as a writer, I find that if I read too many other books it adversely affects my own writing, makes my natural tendency toward imitation come to the fore. But this time I cannot keep silent about a new book that has crossed my desk, ‘The Last Pilgrim, The Life of Mary Allerton Cushman’ by Noelle Granger.
The year was 1620. An old, battered and leaking ship, the Mayflower, arrived in the new world. Aboard are more than a hundred passengers, plus about thirty crew. They gaze at the land, grateful to have arrived in one piece, as they have survived storm, overcrowding, scurvy and death at sea. They anchor in the harbor at Cape Cod hook, now known as Provincetown Harbor. Here they draw up the Mayflower Compact and, led by William Bradford, established a colony in the new world.
All of us know these facts from history we were taught. As children we learned the dates, the names, the numbers of people, looked at paintings that represent the arrival at Plymouth Rock and dressed up as puritans with black paper hats and made turkey paintings by outlining our off-hands for Thanksgiving in first grade.
But history can be a cold thing, and the trials and tribulations of the Separatist English Puritans were very real. To feel what they felt, I recommend ‘The Last Pilgrim’ without reservation.
Of the passengers on the Mayflower, Ms. Granger picks the family of Isaac Allerton, and in particular, Isaac’s daughter Mary Allerton, as the vessel to show the reader what it was like to live in that time and place. On the voyage to the new world Mary is but a small child, intelligent and full of life. She has too much energy to be easily constrained to the quiet studious life of a rigid separatist, and so explores this new world as much as she can.
There is a tendency of historical fiction to overplay the history, to overload the narrative with as much information as possible, as if the writer were trying too hard to show how much they know. Ms. Granger does not do this. She weaves history seamlessly into the story using the known facts of Mary’s life. The clothes they wore, the shelters and houses they built, details of midwifery, the food and how they made it, the colony’s relationships with the natives, plus their frustrations with competing colonies and their own sponsors back in the old world, all appear naturally in the narrative. It’s very clear Ms. Granger has more than done her homework, but does not burden the reader with leaden textbook verbiage. I found myself learning without being aware I was learning, a true joy.
A particular pleasure was to read this book written from the standpoint of a woman of the time, to see the events of the day through her eyes. First as a child, then as a teenager, a young woman, a mature woman and finally as what we would now call a ‘senior citizen’, we are treated to Mary’s inquisitiveness, her courage and her strong heart as she navigates the joys and sorrows of life in her time.
I don’t want to give you the details of the story. Better for you to enjoy Ms. Granger’s well-crafted story for yourselves rather than me giving you a second hand Cliff Notes version. Suffice to say you will be transported to the time and will laugh and cry right along with her.
I leave you with the link to find this gem.