Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me by Peter Boody

Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me
Peter Boody
330 pages

Jack Arrowsmith, the me in the book’s title, and Rachel Carter, Jack’s dead son’s girlfriend, meet the ghost of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. When Jack and Rachel engage Jefferson, he becomes a solid, breathing man who convinces them to take him away from Monticello. Thus ensues a sometimes-delightful tale of past and present that intertwines Jack’s grief over the loss of his wife from illness and his son from an automobile accident with Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence and his relationship to the Hemings family and slaves in general.

“Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”—Mark Twain

By implication, the novel’s title suggested the most important character would be Jefferson, then Rachel, and lastly, Jack. However, I read more about Jack and his coping with loss than about Jefferson. Rachel, who should have been an important character, was little more than a cipher—her presence for me was more like a _deus ex machina_ enabling the Hemings discussion rather than a fully fleshed character. I don’t know if the reason for this was because the story was told from Jack’s point of view in first person, but for long stretches of the book, we are told about Jefferson’s activity after the fact. As a result, I thought the book was about the narrator instead of Jefferson. I never got close to Jefferson and didn’t witness him adapting to his new situation or grow as a person. Towards the end, it was hard to suspend the disbelief that I had willing done at the start. In addition, the book seemed to be a venue for Boody to express his political views. I found some scenes to be particularly ham-handed.

Despite the drawbacks this book has as a novel for me, I found it worth reading for the historical aspects regarding slavery and Jefferson’s relationship with the Hemings family.

Notes: I did come across some typos and the occasional clunky sentence. They were few and not sufficient to harm the reading experience. I read the Nook edition.

1 comment:

  1. OK. But for a very different take on this book, please see Kirkus Reviews, which made it an Indie Critics' Pick:
    Also see San Francisco Book Review, which gave it five stars:
    Thanks for considering another viewpoint.