American Follies (The American Novels)

Written by Norman Lock
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

In 1883, stenographer Ellen Finch must lie about having an infant son to obtain an audience with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Formerly a stenographer for writer Henry James, Sarah wishes to provide a similar service to the two women. She soon begins to enjoy the banter between Anthony and Canton as they stump for women’s suffrage and the use of alcohol.

They befriend a midget who performs with Barnum’s Circus. When Ellen Finch’s son is kidnapped by the Klan, the three women use the circus train as it travels east from New York to Memphis. Because Ellen’s son was of a “dark complexion,” it is the Klan’s desire to punish Elizabeth Stanton for “championing miscegenation and free love”; therefore, the child is to be sacrificed at the foot of a fiery cross.

American Follies is the seventh book in the American Novels series, and a stand-alone work. The author brings to life the two suffragists, Anthony and Stanton, with a kind of comic opera dialog between the two. The story is fiction, but it describes the women’s early voting rights movement along with the racial prejudice that existed at the time. The historical characters, especially Ellen Finch, the protagonist, blend nicely with the fictional ones. I found this book to be a thoroughly worthwhile read.