John Richard Lindermuth,
Schlussel's Woman
(iUniverse, 2003)

Schlussel's Woman proves that self-publishing can be a positive development for readers. This novel might be considered too uncommercial or offbeat for mainstream publishers. Many readers, however, will welcome Schlussel's Woman as an alternative from standard popular fare.

John Richard Lindermuth's historical novel, which has elements of romance and mystery, is set in the Pennsylvania coal regions in 1829-30. It is based on an actual historical incident. As the book opens, Issac Schlussel is shot and is precariously near death. The tyrannical Schlussel is a rich entrepreneur, married to a younger woman. His wife Nancy is restless, and one day the itinerant Titus Kuhns comes to visit and stays to paint her portrait. The plot thickens from here, often in unexpected ways.

Nearly the entire novel is told in flashbacks, covering how Schlussel developed his fortune and met his wife. Chapters move back and forth across time periods, although readers should have no trouble following the various story elements.

Lindermuth has a quirky, adjective-heavy writing style that may be off-putting at first. An example is the beginning of the third chapter:

"Wetness. A gray, dreary day pervaded by wetness. A misty rain that oozes from leaden skies, soaking earth, man, and beast until they can hold no more and it percolates forth from their skins and coverings as it does from the tenebrous heavens."

But once you get used to it, Lindermuth's writing can be easily understood, and he keeps the action moving. He evokes the flowery writing styles of the past without making the reader wade through unnecessary verbiage.

The characters are not the cardboard types too often seen in historical fiction. In fact, except for the two former African-American slaves that Lindermuth makes totally loyal and heroic in a nod to political correctness, nearly everyone in the book is at least a little rotten. Nan is spoiled and immature, and Kuhns is a coward. And they are the protagonists.

Aaron Inch, Schlussel's servant, and the slavecatcher Alonso Jump are about as despicable as they come. But, where you might expect the usual clash of good vs. evil, instead Inch and Kuhns come together for a self-serving conspiracy.

One can easily picture an editor demanding that Lindermuth make the main characters more likeable and tie up all the loose ends at the conclusion. The epilogue is a bit scattered, but then so is real life.

Lindermuth, a retired newspaper editor and writer, does a wonderful job of recreating history. It is not only his descriptions. He deftly shows everyday activities in both work and leisure, letting the reader feel, and not just observe, life in the early era of gunpowder manufacturing.

Lindermuth fits a lot into this book, which is only 195 pages. It's a quick read, but one that should stay with you longer than many an overstuffed historical epic.

- Rambles
written by Dave Howell
published 4 June 2005

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