The Friendly Persuasion

Written by Jessamyn West
Review by Ann Chamberlin

The reader who picks this up having seen “Civil War” on the cover and hoping for tales of cannon shot and screaming horses will be disappointed—but I hope, in the end, as enriched as I was. The characters are Quakers, after all, an orchard man, doing his part to fructify his little part of the early frontier, and his preacher wife, not inclined to war. The time spread, while a little vague, goes from their years with a young family to the putting in of gas lighting and grandparenthood. The big battles are fought over the kitchen table, and not over whether one might die, which is bound to happen sooner or later, but over the horror that one might kill. In “The Battle of Finney’s Ford,” the enemy never appears—or is found, rather, in a young man’s own impatience struggling with his fear when he goes against faith to fight for his country. “Pictures from a Clapboard House,” the name of another chapter, could title the whole book when it gives us a child’s view of the adult world. Then the next chapter balances with an adult glimpse of fleeting childhood.

Unlike most other genres, historical fiction has unique capabilities to withstand becoming dated. Jessamyn West’s collection of stories connected by on-going characters, which began life as magazine publication in 1940, gathered together and called a novel in 1968, is a case in point. As long as readers can find historical fiction of this caliber reprinted, modern attempts must struggle not to appear mere popguns. The beauty of the writing takes the breath away on every page. The most pivotal issues of human life are picked up and caressed in the particular until they glitter brilliantly. The unique bravery in homespun innocence, the universality of lives comfortable in their quirks, accepting of other’s differences as the limits of one’s own faith are likewise accepted—this is a beautiful book charged with heavenly power, all the while firmly grounded on earth.