Monday, February 24, 2014
A Snug Life Somewhere by Jan Shapin
Penny Joe Cooper grew up in Washington during the early 1900's. Her father was part of union politics there, as the Seattle and Everett cities were early union strongholds. When Penny is in her early twenties, he is sent to prison on manslaughter charges when a fire set during a union protest turned deadly. Penny's only brother, Horace, also gets caught up in union politics and is killed in what is known as the Everett Massacre.
Penny is left adrift to find her way in the world. She is in love with a young violinist called Marcel but that relationship is unlikely to last. She ends up falling in with a union organizer, Gabe, who uses Penny as a token in his union speeches, the sister of a martyr. When the law starts to make noises about arresting all the union men, Gabe decides to flee to Mexico and forces Penny to accompany him.
In Mexico, they live with other Communist sympathizers who are working to bring communism to all lands. After a couple of years, Gabe and Penny come back to America and Penny manages to escape from him. She moves from town to town, doing whatever is needed to support herself and searching for a snug life, a life where she can be herself and not be troubled with other people's issues. She is drawn to education and works to find a way to take classes and train for a profession. Penny ends up back in the West, where she has a small farm to grow wildflower seeds for sale, an occupation that provides the relaxing life she has searched for.
Jan Shapin has written an interesting novel about the early union years and how it worked in tandem with the Socialist and Communist organizations. Along the way, Penny meets famous people of the age and is involved in many plots in a peripheral way. She strives to make a life for herself, and the reader cannot help but cheer for someone so determined to get an education and live a life that is free on conflict. This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.