The Evolution of Annabel Craig

Written by Lisa Grunwald
Review by Marlie Wasserman

Before William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow came to Dayton, Tennessee in 1925 for what became known as the monkey trial, few Americans had heard of the sleepy hill town. Lisa Grunwald drops her readers in the middle of Dayton, giving life to its streets, its shops, and above all to its 2000 church-loving residents as they prepare for what they think of as the trial of the century. We follow the enfolding drama through the eyes of Annabel Craig. Her husband, George, joins the team representing John Scopes, accused of teaching evolution in a public school, in violation of Tennessee’s Butler Act. Armed with a Kodak camera, Annabel finds an opportunity of her own, photographing the proceedings for newspaper publication.

Against the background of the trial, Annabel and George grapple with tensions in their marriage. George obsesses about his career and his ham radio hobby, while Annabel longs to start a family. She embraces religion, though her growing understanding of evolution tests her faith. In contrast, George embraces science and discounts religion. His self-pity over professional setbacks and his disgust for his neighbors’ uninformed opinions compromise his ability to sway others.

Grunwald depicts a major trial in American history through the lens of a troubled marriage. The fact that readers know the outcome of the trial in no way deters from the power of this well-crafted, well-paced novel. Grunwald wisely chooses a nuanced ending, and readers will root for Annabel as she struggles to find her path through competing worldviews and competing ideas about the role of a wife in a marriage.