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Bleeding Kansas: A Novelby Sara Paretsky
Synopses & Reviews
Set in the Kaw River Valley where Paretsky grew up, Bleeding Kansas is the story of the Schapens and the Grelliers, two farm families whose histories have been entwined since the 1850s, when their ancestors settled the valley as antislavery emigrants.
Today, the Schapen family, terrified by the lawlessness of the 1970s — when Lawrence was the most violent college town in the nation — has turned to that old-time religion for security. The Schapens keep a close eye on all their neighbors, most especially the Grelliers. They maintain careful track of everyone's misdeeds, printing the most egregious on their family website. When Gina Haring, a Wiccan, moves into an empty farmhouse and starts practicing pagan rites, the family members are so outraged that they begin an active harassment campaign against the Wiccans.
The Schapens worry, too, about who stands better with the Lord: their family or the Grelliers. When a Schapen cow gives birth to what may be a Perfect Red Heifer — needed if the temple is ever rebuilt in Jerusalem — the Schapens feel convinced that God is indeed smiling on them.
Despite parental cautions, the Grelliers' teenagers are enraged by the Schapens. All their short lives, they and the young Schapens have fought. One particularly angry confrontation causes Chip Grellier to be expelled from school and consequentlyto join the army. Chip's death in Iraq is the catalyzing event for momentous changes in the lives of not only both the Schapens and the Grelliers but of all the families in the valley. The powerful, climactic scene at Gina Haring's Samhain bonfire will forever haunt the reader.
"There was the 1850s' Bloody Kansas of history, and now there is Sara Paretsky's ' Bleeding Kansas' of fiction. Each is a mix of the real and the imagined, and both are unforgettable. Paretsky, one of America's best-selling crime novelists, has taken a risk with this book. She has written a serious, multilayered saga that requires her loyal readers to move away from the familiar world of V.I. Warshawski,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the Chicago private detective whom Paretsky brought to life in 12 previous novels. In its place, she has created a wild, wicked world in present-day northeastern Kansas that is as complicated as it is mean. At the heart of the novel are the passions of hard-pressed farm families who milk, sow and reap and mostly despise one another. There are fanatic Christians who hate in the name of Jesus, Jews fixated on a perfect red heifer calf that will help them rebuild the original Temple in Jerusalem, and naked Wiccan women who dance around bonfires. Sex of several varieties is sprinkled throughout. Adultery, drugs, suicide, alcoholism and madness are present. The Iraq war, as an issue and as a cause of a young soldier's death, is there, too. Underlying these current events are those from pre-Civil War Bleeding Kansas, when pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces committed unspeakable murders in the name of racial politics. Those stories come forward mostly through letters from that earlier violent time. There are also glimpses of the conflicts in the 1960s and '70s that brought bombings and other mayhem to the nearby campus of the University of Kansas at Lawrence. In short, nobody will ever confuse Sara Paretsky's Kansas with that of Judy Garland and Oz. There are few rainbows and little music among the neighboring Grelliers and Schapens, the two families who are central to 'Bleeding Kansas.' Their feud over who are the better Christians, among other issues, goes back 150 years. The plot focuses on possible peacemaking among the warring parties, which is triggered mostly by some heavy petting between Lara Grellier and Robbie Schapen, two teenagers with the hots for each other. Paretsky grew up in the area where her novel is set. She clearly knows the territory — the history and the people. There are times, in fact, when her knowledge seems too much. Some brush-clearing, particularly at the beginning when trying to sort through many names, characters and situations, would have been helpful. Rereading is often necessary to follow who is doing what, where, when and why. But that is a minor complaint. The bottom line is that Sara Paretsky has demonstrated in 'Bleeding Kansas' the superb skills as a novelist that were already known and admired by the avid followers of V.I. Warshawski. It is likely that V.I. herself, after reading this book, would not be able to resist rushing off to Kansas to try shaking some common sense as well as peace into the Grelliers and the Schapens. Jim Lehrer is the host of 'The NewsHour' on PBS." Reviewed by Jim Lehrer, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"The comparison to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is inevitable, given the shared rural Kansas setting of the two books....
"In words, images, and the cadences of midwestern speech, Paretsky paints the landscape of the Kansas prairie and the cycles of the land in this memorable and tragic tale." Booklist
"[A] powerful tale with overtones of the Wild West that illustrates the ease with which communities become zealous, ignited by fear and ignorance." Library Journal
"[T]he multigenerational narrative bristles with the kind of prickly social issues that give substance to Paretsky's detective stories." Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
"[U]nforgettable....[Paretsky] has written a serious, multi-layered saga that requires her loyal readers to move away from the familiar world of V.I. Warshawski....In its place, she has created a wild, wicked world in present-day northeastern Kansas that is as complicated as it is mean." Jim Lehrer, The Washington Post Book World
"Paretsky shows a remarkable flair for teasing out the foibles as well as the strengths of her rural protagonists. Paretsky's heroes are deeply flawed and deeply human." Chicago Tribune
The New York Times bestselling authors most remarkable novel yet — a story of two families, linked by their Midwestern pioneer pasts, and the dark family secrets that threaten to tear them apart.
The "New York Times"-bestselling author's most remarkable novel yet--a story of two families, linked by their Midwestern pioneer pasts, and the dark family secrets that threaten to tear them apart. A strong and stark portrayal of the Heartland.--The Associated Press. Available in a tall Premium Edition.
The New York Times bestseller from the author of Fire Sale.
In Kansas, three families have coexisted not-so-peacefully for more than one hundred and fifty years: the Grelliers, the Fremantles, and the Schapens. Into their lives comes Gina Haring, a relative of the Fremantles who is house-sitting the derelict family mansion while she puts her own life in order. Her lifestyle and beliefs will put her at odds with her neighbors?and test the mettle of a community being swept up in events beyond its control.
About the Author
Sara Paretsky is the author of fourteen previous books, including twelve V. I. Warshawski novels. She is the winner of many awards, including the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for Lifetime Achievement from the British Crime Writers' Association.
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