This story has an almost Biblical feel to it. In her first book In the Shadow of the Valley, Bobi Conn finds her own voice. Now she uses that voice to share the stories of her female ancestors. Conn shows us the world of turn-of the-century Appalachia through a story that could have occurred in medieval Europe, the African continent or any time or place where women are denied opportunity and self-expression. She creates a world where women must fight for agency, and that fight is universal. Conn reveals the truth of her ancestry and the women who came before her. Throughout history women have been without voice, unable to tell their stories so that what we know comes from the world of men. Giving voice to the women who came before us is a wonderous gift.
Rosalee is so isolated from the larger world that she must rely on the wisdom she’s been given by the women who came before her, who have died leaving her to travel through life on her own. At fifteen she is forced into a marriage with a violent and controlling bootlegger. She quickly learns to navigate through her marriage so as to protect herself and her children as best she can. Eventually she becomes the older, wiser, stronger, woman there to support and aide the women who come after her, but that comes in time and with painful experience.
Rosalee lives in a world where women are healers and care givers, but when those roles become perceived threats to the men of that world, they are shunned and stifled from using their talents. Rosalee’s best ally is the nature that surrounds her, it is her escape and her strength. She flees whenever she can to the woods and to the magical spring that only the women know about. She learns to garden, to forage and to utilize all that nature has to offer without abusing it. She learns quickly that she cannot rely on the men in her life, that their promises do not hold.
Through telling this story, Conn demonstrates how previous generations inform the current generation. In doing so, we gain a better understanding of who we all are and why. Her writing is lyrical and honest. She exposes inter-generational trauma with grace and empathy. Her strong sense of place and love for Appalachia is clear. I look forward to reading more by Bobi Conn.