Edenland is a sweet, quiet (if it is possible to call it that given that it is set mostly in the South during the Civil War) tale of two runaways who find each other and fall in love.
It is not a grotesque love story, in that their relationship is not ALL the story is about. It is about two people who have their own sad, sorrowful pasts that find commonality in their alone-ness. There is not an abundance love or sex scenes; it is their feelings that manifest for each other that demonstrate their love, and their longing to be together.
Beldsoe and Alice first meet in a swamp in North Carolina and help each other escape the situations they are running from. Throughout the book, they are split apart, reunited, and are split apart again as they make their way North, where Bledsoe wants to join Lincoln’s army to fight for emancipation. Hiding in caves and bushes, stealing food from unlocked homes, and nabbing clothes off of clotheslines is what keeps them going. During their flight, they vacillate between staying together (Alice wants to) and splitting up (Bledsoe wants to). They don’t fall in love on page one.
The sole plot is to bring these two together again. Will they still feel love for each other? Is the other even still alive? Will they make it North? Is everyone an enemy? The other interesting dynamic is that Alice, an orphan born in Ireland is treated like a slave, and is thus uneducated. Many others believe her to be a slave because of her poor manners and language. Bledsoe is the son of a slave owner and slave mother, and is treated like a pet growing up, being allowed to learn to read. For this, his is capable of recanting memorized pieces of books and encyclopedias he has read. As a runaway slave, this is a dangerous talent to have. The way the author swaps the education between these two characters is a refreshing change from typical books about slaves and slavery during the Civil War.
This isn’t a long story, but it is a sweet one. The author just gives enough detail about each of Alice’s and Bledsoe’s past that you want just a teeny bit more. The ending is abrupt, but rightly so….the book would not be the same if she continued on for another 100 pages wrapping things up in a pretty bow. I appreciated the ending and it left a curious smile on my face.
“A warm breeze ruffled the hem of her green taffeta skirt and tickled her ankles. She absentmindedly twirled the silk tassel of a button on her blouse as the brush shush-shushed through her hair. She closer her eyes. no one had ever brushed her hair before. This must be how a dog feels getting petted, she thought. She felt herself falling into a blissful state just short of sleep.”
“…today the artist had given him a small amount of pocket money. ‘There you go. Buy yourself a—? What would you buy?’
Bledsoe felt the coins rattling in his pocket and it felt good. His very first own money.
‘A book,’ he replied without hesitation. ‘But I ain’t supposed to know how to read.'”
“The July sun had turned from red to white and it was mean.”
There isn’t a lot of information about Wallace King, but she has written a few novels before Edenland. I feel, however, that I learned a lot about who Wallace King is in the Author’s Notes at the end of Edenland. ❤