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When you think about historical, notorious criminals, you don't really think about their wives and kids. I don't anyway. So I was intrigued when presented with the opportunity to read and review I Am Mrs. Jesse James by Pat Wahler.
Pat is a lovely author who responded quickly to my inquiry for a review copy and even allowed me a few minutes to ask about the cover of her book.
If you've read my blog post on book covers that showcase the backs of female characters, you know that I likely had a trace of annoyance in my message to Pat. I do have a pet peeve about female characters not being allowed the opportunity to face the camera.
Thankfully, Pat extended me some grace and offered some insight into how the cover came to be what it is.
The cover design was quite a process, and we went through several versions. I said from the beginning I didn't want her face to be shown. For one thing, Zee wasn't a character I made up. Images people claim to be of her do exist, however, very few are verified as authentic. In essence, Zee was invisible to history, and I wanted the cover to reflect that.
Makes sense, right? And, it added to my intrigue. Who was Zee James? Was she a willing accomplice to Jesse's crimes? Or an ignorant wife confused about all the hype and finger pointing toward her husband?
It seems to me Zee James was somewhere in between those two things.
Jesse met his bride when he was taken to his aunt and uncle's home after an injury. Having been the victim of a beating by the Federalists and witnessing his stepfather being hanged, Jesse was riddled with hate and anger for the North and all it represented. Zee spent months nursing him back to health much to the chagrin of her parents who disapproved of Zee's budding love for her cousin and his vengeful behavior.
That was the thing about Zee. She was a devoted believer of love and had no time for the concept of an arranged marriage, despite her parents attempts to convert her to this way of thinking. Instead, Zee waited years for Jesse to obtain enough money to marry her, never once inquiring about how he obtained those funds and eschewing any inkling that suggested he participated in any wrong doing along the way.
Over time the evidence stacked up against Jesse. By then, Zee had given birth to his children, moved multiple times across the country, and still loved the man she believed Jesse could be.
Told in a circular story structure with the opening pages at Jesse's funeral, I Am Mrs. Jesse James is a well-told historical fiction novel. Although the characters experience several of the same events with varying outcomes, I was never bored while reading.
The author does a superb job of tugging at the heartstrings of her readers.
I did have a bit of a struggle in the first couple of chapters as several characters are introduced in quick succession but once I figured out who was who the story line was easy to follow.
By the time I finished reading I was emotionally spent. I was also left thinking about how women often end up settling. Whether we settle for a career that's lacking or for a partner that doesn't see us as an equal, it turns out this has been going on for far longer than I'd ever thought. Zee was adamant she wouldn't marry out of obligation to her parents or marry a man she didn't love yet she love herself much. She stayed in her parents home never once venturing out into the world to see if there was a man who was a better fit for her. She chose, instead, to latch on to Jesse's belief system without ever developing one of her own, save the rebellion to her parents' idea of arranged marriage. May Zee James be an example to us all.
Never rebel so hard that you settle for less than you're worth.
Have you read I Am Mrs. Jesse James? If so, I'd love to hear what you thought of it. If you haven't, I highly recommend it. You can support my small business by purchasing a copy here at Author's Ink for a discounted rate of 12% off the suggested retail price.