Friday, March 19, 2021

"The Stills"

Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries. Under her given name, she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News. Her first novel in the Kinship Historical Mystery series garnered awards even before publication: Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts & Cultural District (MCAD) Artist Opportunity Grant (2018); Individual Excellence Award (2016) in Literary Arts from Ohio Arts Council; John E. Nance Writer in Residence at Thurber House (Columbus, Ohio) in 2014.

Montgomery applied the Page 69 Test to The Stills, the third novel in the Kinship series, and reported the following:
On page 69, Sheriff Lily Ross enters the Harkins farmhouse in a far reach of Bronwyn County, in the Appalachian hills of southeastern Ohio. The Harkins son, Zebediah may have ingested tainted alcohol. It’s 1927, a little over halfway through the United States’ experiment with Prohibition, and by this time, the federal government had started adding deadly methyl alcohol to industrial alcohol, sometimes used in brewing alcohol for human consumption. Sheriff Lily, whose character is inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff in the 1920s, is more worried about the boy’s well-being than the law at this point, and has arrived with the doctor.

Not only that, but the Harkins mother, Dora, is very ill with cancer. The Harkins father, Leroy, works on Lily’s small farm.

Here’s part of page 69:
Lily clears her throat. “Mr. Harkins, I can get Zebediah to the help he needs. Based on what Ruth told us, Zebediah has ingested tainted alcohol. The sooner we c-can—”

Lily stutters to a stop. Whereas at her farm Leroy often removes his hat and lowers his eyes when addressing her, now his gaze is straight and sharp as a finely honed stone arrowhead. This is his turf, his land.

“You need to pull my boy in for drinking, so be it.” As he starts to pull his wife from the cold door, his voice softens. “Come on, honey.”

Lily’s fists clench. Damn that it’s the man’s legal right to run his family as he sees fit. She relaxes her hands, tries to speak gently. “I’m not pulling him in. We just want Zebediah to be all right.”

Dora jerks away from her husband, and the look on his face is as if she has shot him through the heart. “Please, Leroy! Just let the doctor in—”

“Didn’t do nothing for you,” Leroy mutters. “Just like that fool church didn’t do nothing.”

Lily’s heart crackles, sorrowful for the man’s loss of faith. He’s already lost so much.

But not his love for his wife. As he gently turns her away from the door, Leroy says over his shoulder, “Come in then. Shut the door behind you!”
I feel this passage on page 69 actually captures a lot of the spirit of The Stills, whose plot is driven in part by both Prohibition and the church to which Leroy refers, as well as by the illnesses of Zebediah and his mother.

More importantly, it shows Lily at her best, prioritizing her concern for the people she serves, and being sensitive to the nuances that drive their lives. It also reflects the extra challenges that women face in the 1920s, even in having power in their own home. And yet, Leroy ultimately do as his wife wishes, even as he struggles with his own fears and grief.

The setting, the Appalachian area, is a character in this passage too, as it is in the whole of my novel and in my series.
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Widows.

The Page 69 Test: The Hollows.

--Marshal Zeringue