The Daughters of Erietown

Written by Connie Schultz
Review by Sarah Johnson

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Schultz’s debut novel is completely absorbing from the opening pages through the finale. It follows a working-class family from the fictional Erietown in northeastern Ohio across the 20th century’s second half. While its situations are familiar –teenage pregnancy, generational conflict, infidelity, women’s stifled hopes – the author renders them unique through characters whose vivid inner lives make them feel as real as any of us. In 1975, Samantha McGinty heads to Kent State, the first in her family to attend university. In the car with her parents and brother, Sam thinks back on the terrible day in 1969 that broke her family and made her see her father, Brick, in a new, critical light.

Following this provocative hint of mystery, the narrative smoothly moves back in time to depict Sam’s parents as young people facing troubled circumstances. It’s 1956, and petite sixteen-year-old Ellie Fetters, raised by caring, old-fashioned grandparents, loves red-haired Brick McGinty, top scorer for their high school’s basketball team. Brick grows up protecting his exhausted mother from his father’s abuse and plans a future that involves Ellie, a sports scholarship, and escaping their small rural town. Ellie’s pregnancy derails their dreams, transforming Ellie into a housewife and young mother in their new house in Erietown, while Brick works a union job at the electric plant and, over time, starts feeling resentful.

The story shows how patterns from previous generations repeat themselves, despite people’s awareness of them. The historical period emerges through social attitudes and the impact of larger events; the McGintys’ “Jack and Jesus” wall, with its pictures of Christ and President Kennedy, has a somber meaning after JFK’s assassination. This deeply felt saga takes on tough subjects with profound honesty and carries readers along with the multifaceted, flawed characters as they move through and deal with life.