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Jenny's Way by Diana K. Perkins
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Jenny’s Way: A Local Legend is the second novel by Diana K. Perkins set in a New England mill town. Most of the story in her first book, Singing Her Alive, took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jenny’s Way is set in the middle of the 20th century.

Both novels made me feel as if I were in a time and place that truly existed—and among persons whose happiness or sorrow I’d care about.

“Jenny’s Way” is a lane leading to four cottages on the shore of a lake created behind a dam on the Shetucket River in Connecticut. The dam, as long as it exists, supplies the power for the mill.

In his boyhood the narrator and protagonist, John E. Walker Black—so named by his alcoholic father—learns from his paternal grandfather the cottages aren’t the fishing camp they’re said to be. The cottages house persons we’d now refer to as “female sex workers,” including two lesbian lovers.

For the time and place involved, John E. and the farmer grandparents he lives with are remarkably accepting. John E. and Rachael, the granddaughter of Jenny, the good-hearted matriarch who founded the camp, become close friends. Rachael lives in the camp with Jenny, but the visitors dare not touch her.

The town tolerates the existence of the camp. Many of its mill-worker men, some with the unstated acquiescence of their wives, enjoy visiting the camp. And not just for the sex, but for the drinking, card-playing, dancing, and camaraderie as well.

This isn’t, though, an idyllic scene. Jerome “Buck” Hunter and his son Kevin are part of it as well. “Buck honed Kevin’s aggression like a knife, saying he was proud of his playground bullying and then turning around and swatting him for not running quickly enough to get him a beer.”

So John E. and Rachael’s families confront grief. Not a little of it stems from their own people. John E. has good reasons for not living with his mother or father. And the townspeople can sometimes stoop to rather low levels of hypocrisy.

Jenny’s Way: A Local Legend pulled me in and held me. Humans are capable of horrifying cruelty, Perkins seems to say, but they’re also able to take themselves past that and endure.

(As originally reviewed on Rainbow Book Reviews. Please visit http://www.rainbowbookreviews.com for other reviews that may be of interest.) ( )
  RonFritsch | Apr 20, 2013 |
A nostalgic and dramatic work of fiction that takes readers back to forgotten years, "Jenny’s Way" captures the heart of life in 20th century Connecticut. Diana Perkins paints the scenes and normal goings-on in such beautiful detail that time traveling seems quite possible, and one can almost smell the air. The story unfolds at an easy pace, but far from being boring. It compels one to continue turning the pages of the book.
 
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