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Mary : a novel
Janis Cooke Newman
Adult Fiction NEWMAN

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Abraham Lincoln's widow was committed by her son in 1875; kept awake by the bedlam of her fellow inmates, she takes up a pen. Newman, author of the memoir The Russian Word for Snow, portrays Mary Todd Lincoln (1818- 1882) as a proto-feminist: she seduces poor Illinois lawyer Lincoln; kick-starts his career; draws his attention to the slavery issue; corrects his elocution before the Lincoln-Douglas debates; and lobbies behind the scenes (she also has an affair). After the 1860 election, the narrative returns to accepted history, dominated by Mary's crushing misery after a son's death in 1862, her husband's assassination and another son's death in 1872, punctuated by lavish shopping expeditions and an occasional psychotic break. Not introspective and demonstrative, Mary presents a challenge for any historical novelist. Newman makes a good choice in telling the story through Mary's eyes and drawing readers into her perspective. Lincoln buffs can give this a pass because he comes across as a shadowy figure, but readers looking for a vivid, mostly flattering (and rather massive) account of his once-notorious spouse, whose letters are becoming more read, will not be disappointed and those who simply come upon it will be happily surprised. (Sept. 8) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Newman's first novel presents a riveting portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln. Writing in her journal while confined to Bellvue asylum, Mary alternates between recalling her past life as First Lady and detailing her current experiences in that institution. The first-person narrative and liberal use of descriptive details, perfected perhaps by Newman's extensive experience writing nonfiction, enlist the reader's sympathy for the mentally unstable Mrs. Lincoln. At the same time, we can become dismayed at her seeming lack of common sense. Her obsessions are chronicled, from compulsive shopping and fears for the safety of her loved ones, to her sexual needs. Mary's hopes, dreams, feelings, and thoughts are conveyed with depth and subtlety, but the supporting characters seem superficial. Barbara Hambly's The Emancipator's Wife is similar in subject and style, yet the two novels complement rather than duplicate each other. Newman does not emphasize Mary's addiction to opium and patent medicines, while Hambly suggests this is at the root of much of Mary's irrational behavior. The authors present differing views on the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, and Newman offers fewer details of Mary's life, which helps her better maintain the pace and tension of the story. Newman's nuanced portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln's personal struggles belongs in all public libraries, even if they already own the Hambly book.-Ann Fleury, Tampa-Hills-borough Cty. P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Mary Todd Lincoln
Age: 1818-1882
Abraham Lincoln's wife; was the thinker and voice behind her husband's career; lost a son in 1862; husband was assassinated in 1872; lost another son in 1872; committed to an asylum in 1875.

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