Novel weaves a compelling tale with two stories

  • Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013 11:30 p.m.

“The House Girl” by Tara Conklin

c. 2013, William Morrow

$27.99 Canada, 372 pages

You didn’t think you’d ever stop looking.

You’d been searching for days for that one thing you needed — a fact, a document, a recipe, a key — and it was nowhere to be found. You tore the house up and … nothing.

And then you found it. Actually, you’d found it several days before: it was right in front of you all along, but you never really saw it.

Sometimes things get buried and it takes tenacity to sort them out. That’s what happens in the new novel, “The House Girl” by Tara Conklin, where truth lies covered for over a century.

Lina Sparrow had always wanted to be a lawyer.

Her father, famed artist Oscar Sparrow, always claimed that said she made a good argument and, indeed, Lina thrived on the work she did as a first-level at Clifton & Harp, LLP. The hours were impossibly long and sleep was a hard-found commodity, but she felt privileged to work on cases she’d never forget.

Like the case she’d recently been handed.

One of the firm’s biggest clients decided to bring suit against several large corporations in search of trillions of dollars in reparations for the descendants of African slaves. The client had gotten the go-ahead from the government to do it and, while the case would be pro bono, if they won, it would monumental. It would also catapult Lina, her colleagues, and the firm into law history.

Lina only needed to find a connection from past to present, and damage done.

Seconds after Mister slapped her, Josephine knew that she would run again.

She knew he was struggling. Missus Lu was dying, there weren’t enough slaves to bring in the crops, and Mister had to help in the fields himself. But there was no call for him to slap her, so Josephine started collecting a few things to take as she fled, including some drawings she’d made in Missus’ studio.

She tried running years ago but her belly was big then, and the baby started coming before she could make it north to Philadelphia. She was told later that the child died, but Missus Lu had recently admitted otherwise.

Yes, Josephine had gone back to Bell Creek plantation once before.

She wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

Although it’s a little rough, and though there’s some unnecessary (and sometimes ill-fitting) detail in the story, there’s a lot of good inside “The House Girl.”

Author Tara Conklin does an excellent job weaving two divergent stories together, connecting threads that strengthen as the story goes along. I particularly loved Josephine, perhaps because her quiet thoughts spoke so loudly.

Also, one integral part of the plot bears mentioning: Conklin is so vivid in her descriptions of fictional artwork that I actually started looking for color pictures of something that doesn’t exist. That’s some writing!

Overall, this is a well-done book with a few bumps, but novel lovers really won’t mind much. Once you’ve got “The House Girl” in your hands, you’ll only want to find time to read.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been a professional book reviewer for more than 10 years. She lives in Wisconsin.

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