Essie’s Roses

Written by Michelle Muriel
Review by Laura Fahey

Michelle Muriel’s tremendously impressive debut novel takes place in the Antebellum South and centers on the experiences of four remarkable women: Katherine Winthrop, a sweet-natured woman who comes to find herself the owner of Westland, an Alabama cotton plantation; Delly, her strong-willed house slave and confidant; Evie, Katherine’s daughter, and Essie May, a young slave girl who forms a deep and life-changing friendship with young Evie.

As the two girls grow to young adulthood, the world around them darkens and agitates more and more toward the triggering events of the American Civil War, and when the two travel to Richmond, Virginia, on the eve of war, they are exposed to the worst depravities of a depraved society. Their friendship is tested in several very dramatic ways.

Muriel does an extremely confident job of moving her complex, multi-part novel forward. Her characters are vividly drawn, and the many period details – social, linguistic, and even literary – with which she fleshes out her story never feel forced or melodramatic.

Fans of both Gone with the Wind and Geraldine Brooks’ March will find Essie’s Roses a richly moving reading experience.