Friday, March 23, 2012

Senorita Bandita

Last week I checked out an e-book from the library that appeared, from the description and the cover art, to be a Kathleen Woodiwiss-like bodice-ripper.  I was in the mood for a little light historical romance, but that's not what I got.  Bandit Queen by Jane Candia Coleman is the fictionalized autobiography of Pearl Hart, the only woman known to have held up a stagecoach, and "light" is definitely not the appropriate adjective for it.  Gritty, maybe.

Pearl left her well-to-do Ohio family to elope with Frank Hart, an abusive professional gambler.  She ran away from him once - all the way to Arizona - but he eventually found her and she didn't escape again until after she had given birth to two children.  Her life as a single mother in the Wild West grew progressively harder.  Eventually she parked her son and daughter with her widowed mother in Ohio, and when her mother and both children fell ill, she agreed to help a friend rob the stage so she could afford to return home to help them.  The feminist diatribe she delivered at her trial in her own defense is a matter of record, and one of the reasons the author decided to write this book. Pearl was the first woman incarcerated in the Yuma penitentiary, where she was raped by a guard and used the incident (and the ensuing pregnancy) to blackmail her way out.

This is the story of a woman who made one bad decision after another - not romanticized, not apologetic.  Well-researched and sadly believable, it was a good read, but not a happy one.  I suppose this could be considered an object lesson for anyone in a bad relationship, but my advice would be not to read it if you are already a little depressed.

"The world perishes not from bandits and fires, but from hatred, hostility, and all these petty squabbles." ~Anton Chekhov

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