Love and Lament

Written by John Milliken Thompson
Review by Susan Zabolotny

Love and Lament takes place in rural North Carolina during the 30 years leading up to and including World War I. Mary Bet Hartsoe is the focus of this work by John Milliken Thompson.

Her father is maimed from his time in the Civil War, and she can see early on that he is spiraling down into mental illness. One by one she loses her family for a variety of reasons, and she and her father are alone by the time she reaches her late teens. Her mother’s sister comes to help them and eventually marries her father, but Aunt Cattie’s presence is not enough to keep him mentally healthy, and when she dies, Mary Bet must place him in an institution. She is forced by circumstances to make her own way in the world, but she never lets the reader know how she really feels about anything and wrestles with her own psyche throughout most of the book. At age five she kills a baby rabbit and later on lets her brother’s pet crow slowly die of thirst, so her own mental state might be in question.

The synopsis states that she is forced to be independent in a man’s world, but I really didn’t see a struggle. Mary Bet makes history as the first female sheriff of North Carolina through circumstances of war but doesn’t seem to react at all when she is not re-elected. She just plods along – arguing with herself about right and wrong, but not really standing for anything.

I wanted her to shake her fist at me and make me pay attention and care about her story, but it just didn’t happen.