Fiction Janis Cooke Newman Mary: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781931561631

Mary: A Novel

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9781931561631: Mary: A Novel

An engrossing novel about politics, love, war, and one of history’s most misunderstood and enigmatic women. Writing from Bellevue asylum – where the dream shrieks of the other inmates keep her awake at night – a famous widower shares the story of her life, finally in her own words. From Mary’s tempestuous childhood in a slave-holding Southern family through the opium-clouded years after her husband’s death, we are let into the inner, intimate world of this brave and fascinating woman.

Intelligent, unconventional, and – some thought – mad, she held Spiritualist séances in the White House, ran her family into debt with compulsive shopping, negotiated with conniving politicians, and raised her young sons in the nation’s capital during the bloodiest war this country has ever known. She was also a political strategist, a comfort to wounded soldiers, a supporter of emancipation, the country’s first First Lady, and a wife and mother who survived the loss of three children and the assassination of her beloved husband.

Interwoven with her history, Mary describes life in the asylum, where the treatment for lunacy is bland food, cold baths, and the near-lethal doses of chloral hydrate. In these sections, Mary introduces us to her friend, the anorectic, Minnie Judd, who is starving herself to win the affection of her beautiful husband; and to Myra Bradwell, the suffragist and lady lawyer who helps Mary gain her freedom.

An engrossing mix of fact and fiction, and a dramatic tale filled with passion and depression, poverty and ridicule, infidelity and redemption: this is the unforgettable story of Mary Todd Lincoln.

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Review:

Mary is a novel written in the first person, comprised of notes composed by Mary Todd Lincoln when she was an inmate of a lunatic asylum. She takes up her pen to block out the screams and moans of the other inmates and to save her own sanity. According to these notes, although she held séances in the White House and drove her family deeply into debt because of compulsive shopping, she was perfectly sane. She makes a good case for herself, despite occasional manic behavior and often uncontrollable grief.

Mary was born to southern slaveholders in Kentucky, moved to Illinois when she was 20 to live with her sister and met Abe at a cotillion. His opening line was "Miss Todd, I want to dance with you the worst way." Their relationship was odd, to say the least. Lincoln, as portrayed by Janis Cooke Newman, was sexually repressed and feared Mary's passion. She was in an almost constant state of trying to seduce him, usually without success. Despite his gawky, angular, unlovely looks, she adored him--even when she had an affair with another to defuse some of her heat. How much of the bedroom scene is fact and how much fancy must be left to the reader to decide, but it does give credence to Mary's very forward manner and her later "passionate" approach to shopping.

She used her shopping expeditions to accumulate things that would "protect" her family--and finally herself, when she felt her son Robert's growing disapproval of her. In his statement to the "insanity" lawyer, Robert said, "I have no doubt my mother is insane. She has long been a source of great anxiety to me. She has no home and no reason to make these purchases." Mary saw them as talismans against disaster, and she certainly had suffered disasters in abundance. She buried three sons and was holding her husband's hand when he was assassinated by a bullet to the head. Her eldest son, Robert, was a cold, unfeeling, haughty shell of a man to whom Mary did not speak after she was released from the asylum to her sister's care. She spent four years in Europe and, when her health failed, returned to her sister's house, where she received her son once before she died.

"First Lady" is a term that was coined to describe Mary Todd Lincoln, while she was the President's wife. It was meant as a backhanded compliment, because she was front and center during much of Lincoln's term. Presidential wives usually stuck to their knitting, but not Mary. Her unconventional ways did her husband a great deal of good; indeed, it was her ambition for him that finally ignited his own ambition. She also helped him to become a great orator. Ultimately, her "unsexed" manner contributed to her being judged insane in 1865 and committed to Bellevue Place, an asylum in Batavia, Illinois, outside Chicago. No President has been more praised nor any first lady more vilified than Abraham and Mary Lincoln. Janis Cooke Newman brings a time, a place and a person to life in a wholly believable and compelling manner. --Valerie Ryan

From the Back Cover:

"USA"" Today" s Best Historical Fiction of the Year
A "Los Angeles"" Times "Book Prize Finalist
Mary Todd Lincoln is one of history s most misunderstood and enigmatic women. The first president s wife to be called First Lady, she was a political strategist, a supporter of emancipation, and a mother who survived the loss of three children and the assassination of her beloved husband. Yet she also ran her family into debt, held seances in the White House, and was committed to an insane asylum. In this irresistible novel, Mary Todd Lincoln shares the story of her life in her own words, allowing us entry into the inner, intimate world of this brave and fascinating woman.
"Mary" is one of those rare books that turns the reader into an admiring fan of both the author and her subject. You feel a compulsion to urge others to read it . . . Newman gives Mary a riveting voice . . . after reading "Mary, " you ll view stout little Mrs. Lincoln and her 19th-century sisters in a new, more respectful light. "USA"" Today"
Like its protagonist, "Mary "is bold, happy to trample upon convention. It is also an old-fashioned pleasure to read. "The Plain Dealer" (Cleveland)
JANIS COOKE NEWMAN is the author of the memoir "The Russian Word for Snow." She lives in northern California, where she teaches writing classes at the renowned independent bookseller Book Passage. Visit www.JanisCookeNewman.com.
Reading Group Guide available at www.HarcourtBooks.com."

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