By: Cait Earnest, Deseret News"MRS. LINCOLN'S RIVAL," by Jennifer Chiaverini, Dutton, 26.95, 432 pages (f)
Abraham Lincoln's legacy, which for many is a story primarily told through American history textbooks, is twisted and revitalized through the eyes of a proper young lady, who also happens to be Mary Todd Lincoln's socialite nemesis, in Jennifer Chiaverini's new novel.
It's through Kate Chase's eyes that Chiaverini, whose novel "Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
" was on the New York Times best-sellers list, manipulates Lincoln's presidency in "Mrs. Lincoln's Rival." Chiaverini carves out a special place in the timeframe for a delicate and subdued rivalry between Kate and Mary.
Chiaverini beautifully depicts a four-year period in a mere 400 pages, trickling in facts, war, love and family. It begins with the failure of Kate's father to triumph over Abraham Lincoln for a ticket to the White House. Kate, along with her father, feels both resentful and wronged by her father's shortcomings. She then resolves to somehow be the First Lady that Mrs. Lincoln never could, and bad blood brews between the two.
Each page of the novel is laced with propriety and an uptight air Kate possesses to her core. Oftentimes, her tone comes off as snobbish and spoiled, but Chiaverini leaves crumbs of emotional vulnerability throughout, especially with the introduction of another young politician, William, who ultimately steals her heart.
However, Chiaverini's focus is not on the young couple's whirlwind romance. Amid the fluttering love are powerful anecdotes told through Kate's clouded eyes. Her devotion to her father, her family and her new husband lends a vulnerability and innocence to a war story often told in terms of blood and gore. With each significant Civil War event, Kate immediately feels the repercussions and looks to what it means for the country she loves.
While the underlying message of the relationship with William is oftentimes questionable, as it runs rampant with tumultuous fights and quick forgiveness, Chiaverini's point isn't to illuminate the strengths of their relationship; it's more about President Lincoln's unconditional love and devotion to not only his wife but also his country. Aside from the questionable considerations and compromises Kate conceded to be with William, "Mrs. Lincoln's Rival" is a clean novel in both language and message.
Chiaverini’s command of history and the period language employed in each chapter champions Kate’s recalling of the legacy of one of America’s favorite presidents. In the end, it’s the Lincolns, not the Chases, who triumph in Washington.
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