The Daughter’s Walk
In 1896 Norwegian-American Helga Etsby accepts a challenge from the New York World and the fashion industry to walk 3500 miles from Spokane to New York City. As a suffragette, the challenge appeals to Helga. She can show off the practicality of the reform dress she’ll wear – shorter skirts, no corsets – while proving women have stamina. If she makes the journey in seven months, she’ll win ten thousand dollars, enough to keep the family farm from foreclosure. Nineteen-year-old daughter Clara joins her mother in the walk.
The Daughter’s Walk follows Clara after the journey ends, after they return to a family destroyed by a mother’s absence. Helga regrets and atones; Clara can’t. She makes a walk of her own, away from the family, attempting to recapture some of the independence of that cross-country hike. As a woman working and living alone in a man’s world, Clara struggles to keep her self-sufficiency.
Meticulously researched and drawing on extensive resources from Etsby descendants, Kirkpatrick crafts a satisfying novel set at a time when women fought for so much. From Helga to Clara, the novel is full of strong women making their mark on the world on their own. No matter how strong, though, the pull of home and family remain, as Clara tries to make peace with her estranged family.
My one complaint is that the novel feels disconnected at times. Kirkpatrick has done her research and tries to account for all of Clara’s movements and decisions throughout the years, whether or not they directly contribute to a central storyline. I think some could have been left out, to present a more succinct portrait of this intrepid woman.