American historical fiction is a tricky genre. For one thing, there isn't too much American history to choose from. Two hundred years is a relatively short time frame and when much of that period was taken up by western expansion, you end up with a lot of novels grouped under the Western genre heading.
Not that there's anything wrong with westerns, it's just that rarely do historical fiction fanatics make this crossover. (Although if you ever decide you might want to give it a try, just ask A Reader's Respite and we'll be happy to recommend a couple that might just change your persepective!)
So what makes a novel a western and what makes a novel American historical fiction? Not simply the setting, that's for certain. After all, you can take a story about a lone woman trying to make it on her own on the American frontier, throw in a handsome guy and bingo, it becomes a romance.
Very little is known about the real Etta Place, other than she did indeed exist. There's even a photo of her and Sundance. We know she was a member of Cassidy's Hole in the Wall Gang and a pretty darned good outlaw. But eyewitness accounts of the day also say that she was an incredibly refined woman with the manners and bearing of a well-bred young woman of wealth.
Sundance and Etta
But aside from this, nothing is known about Etta. Readers had to wait for Kolpan to come along, fill in the blanks with his rich imagination and give us Etta's story.
The story is beautifully presented and Kolpan's suppositions are surprisingly plausible. The journey from Etta's priviledged upbringing to a tough Hole in the Wall gang member is seamless and her great love with Sundance is both delicate and gritty, befitting the times.
If we had any complaints, it would have be the brevity of Butch, Sundance and Etta's time in South America. As the story drew to a close, it's as if Kolpan wanted to fit too much information in too few pages and the result was a slightly hurried ending that could have been more fleshed out.
But that complaint shouldn't stop you from reading Etta. It is a fabulous example of just how good American historical fiction can be....even if the cover suffers woman-with-her-head-cut-off-syndrome.
Want to read it? Leave me a comment saying so and A Reader's Respite will draw a random winner on Sunday! (International entrants are just fine by us!)
Title: Etta: A Novel
Author: Gerald Kaplan
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date: March 24, 2009
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Literary License, On My Bookshelf, Exiled at the Beach Book Reviews,Worducopia (with My Friend Amy), Medieval Bookworm, Book Lites, mybookdb, On the Same Page, stitch and bear, Literate Housewife Review, Breaking the Fourth Wall, The Right Book at the Right Time, Booking Mama, Book Chase, Somewhat Bookish, The Printed Page