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Stillwater [Kindle Edition]

Nicole Lea Helget
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“A wonder of a novel, rich in history, humor, and heart, with prose that flows and sparkles like a sunlit river.” — Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon

“Lyrical and humorous [with] gorgeous prose . . . A rich and intricate novel full of compassion for these pioneers and the place they live.” — St. Paul Pioneer Press

Raised in the same small community, Clement and Angel, fraternal twins separated at birth, grow up in different worlds. He lives among orphans, nuns, Native Americans, prostitutes. She lives in the town mansion, dressed in taffeta skirts and dodging her mother’s manic attention. Bound by a mystical connection, the twins rarely meet, but Clement knows if he is truly in need, Angel will come.

Near the Mississippi River and Canada, Stillwater becomes an important stop on the Underground Railroad. As the nation pushes boundaries, geographic and moral, and marches into civil war, the territory is at a crossroads. Clement and Angel have both learned to survive at the edge of things, but what will this new world hold for them? Will it set them free?

Stillwater is a lyrical, vibrant, often hilarious, and always unforgettable journey into our past, ourselves, and the impulses that drive us to create and explore.
“Told in a vigorous and warmly resonant prose that captures both the ridiculous and the sublime . . . A steady pleasure.” — Historical Novel Society

Stillwater has true grit . . . Entertaining, inventive, outrageous and well-told.”—MinnPost

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With historic forces playing out on a human scale, this novel brings a lyrical voice all its own to midwestern literature. An author recognized for her memoir The Summer of Ordinary Ways (2005), Helget plunges with the force of river rapids into nineteenth-century life on the changing landscape of Minnesota’s wild frontier, with all its hardships. The story revolves around the connection between fraternal twins Clement and Angel, which proves to be both a blessing and a burden throughout their lives among the hardy town and prairie folk. Helget’s writing practically sings with the force of Clement’s aching devotion to his sister and its consequences. The characters’ unique perspectives weave a rich tapestry of the community, replete with religious caretakers, logger barons, and an abolitionist brothel. Throughout, Helget beats the theme of human bondage in ways both obvious and subtle, from runaway slaves to a domineering mother. A well-crafted meditation on bonds and bondage, Stillwater offers an eloquent tribute to the tribulations of those who made their mark on a growing nation. --Bridget Thoreson


"Set on the Minnesota frontier, in the river town that eventually became the home of the state prison, this novel focuses on the intertwined lives of various settlers, Native Americans, escaped slaves, and orphans. They include twins Angel and Clement, who are separated by Angel’s adoption into a prominent family but connected by a psychic link; Mother St. John and Father Paul, who run an orphanage that also serves as a stop on the Underground Railroad; and trapper and bounty hunter Beaver Jean and his two Native American wives. As the narrative unfolds, we see the evolution of an unsettled territory into statehood, the growth of the timber industry, the uneasy relations with Native Americans, and Minnesota’s role in the Civil War. VERDICT The novel often has a gothic feel, with madwomen, poisonings, and dead babies. But there is also an undercurrent of black humor, particularly in the portrayal of Beaver Jean, who is reprehensible but also a delightful comic creation...[Helget's] research has provided copious fascinating detail that she interweaves with her intriguing tale." — Library Journal

"Helget’s tale of frontier life in the territory of Minnesota gives stark meaning to the term 'woebegone.'...this novel effectively dramatizes the seismic sociological shifts that shaped the American Midwest." — Kirkus

"Helget’s colorful cast struggles against an 'every man for himself' frontier mentality: from a set of orphaned, separated twins named Clement and Angel; to their biological father, a ne’er-do-well fur-trapper named Beaver Jean; to Angel’s nervous, abusive adoptive mother in her fine taffeta skirts; to the nuns and priests and native Americans and escaped slaves who fill out the titular town of Stillwater. The question of whether they will—or won’t—take the risks to help each other survive gives the story some tension, but Helget’s lyricism is what elevates it"
Publishers Weekly

"Make room, Louise Erdrich, Minnesota has a new resident scribe, and her name is Nicole Helget. Stillwater is that rare historical novel that shines as much light forward as it does back. In prose that shimmers, Helget tells the story of orphans and runaway slaves, do-gooders and do-badders, gentle nuns and randy old coots, each of whom damn near leaps off the page, reminding us of who we are now. Rascally and robust, saucy and sincere and serious as a logjam, Stillwater is celebration of this country's coming of age from a writer staking her claim to greatness."
—Peter Geye, author of Safe from the Sea and The Lighthouse Road

"A wonder of a novel, rich in history, humor and heart, with prose that flows and sparkles like a sunlit river."
—Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon and The Wilding

"Stillwater is a stunning achievement. Helget brings her keen sense for Southern Gothic to, of all places, the Northwoods of Minnesota. A fascinating story of a frontier logging town, this novel boasts a remarkable assortment of characters—Indians, slaves, trappers, missionaries, mothers and lost children—all caught up in the crosscurrents of American history. A highly touching and believable tale."
—Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing

Product Details

  • File Size: 1880 KB
  • Print Length: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (February 4, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,464 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprising January 23, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book was not at all what I expected it to be. In retrospect I wasn't sure what I expected, I think maybe more focus on slavery and the civil war, but in this novel they were really just the background, the setting, to a surprising, character driven story.

I'm not even sure how to describe this book. I will say that it shouldn't be missed. I admit that I expected it to be dry and long, but it was packed with a lot of raw emotion and real human moments that I think will draw in most readers.

Characterization is so well done. I don't usually like when a story starts more at the end and then flashes back to the beginning, but in this case, the actions of the characters are so surprising that I really think it works. I mean, you have a murder in around the first twenty pages from someone you wouldn't normally suspect.

There is a hint of supernatural in the story that was also a bit unexpected considering the very serious subject matter, but it too was rather fitting.

This book is kind of a series of elements that you wouldn't expect to work that just, fit. The cast of characters show us the same time period from a slew of different perspectives - there's a pretty thorough list in the plot description above so I won't bore you by repeating it. My favorite character is Angel - separated from her twin brother, adopted by a rich family, but who suffers in unexpected ways - but my favorite character moment comes from a nun at the beginning of the book. She finds two runaway slaves. She is a protector of women and children, so wants to help them, but questions herself and if she's doing the right thing.

Don't miss this book. While some of the story does plod a long a little bit and some is repetitious, especially given the flashback - it is so worth the read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stillwater by Nicole Helget February 4, 2014
Stillwater is the latest novel from author Nicole Helget. Set in the Northwoods of Minnesota this is a novel that reads like a poem with spectacular prose and clarity that is rare in this type of novel. Readers who are looking to experience a book, as much as read it, will fall in love with this novel. There are two distinct themes in this book, motherhood in all of it's various forms, good and evil and freedom which ultimately comes in the same shapes. A wonderful tale set during a traumatic time in our nations history. Helget has written a novel that requires heart, soul and imagination!

What I liked:

Wow! What didn't I like? Being a fan of historical fiction I was excited to read this story from Nicole Helget. I was fortunate to have read her novel, The Turtle Catcher, so I knew to expect the beautiful wording and style in that is unique to the author. She is truly a wordsmith. Sometimes an author has this uncommon talent for knowing which words fit together to form not only good sentences but beautiful ones as well and Helget is one of those rare few.

I also enjoyed the fact that Helget stays true to herself and her heritage by continuing to write stories set in her home state of Minnesota. I first became enamored with the Northwoods of Minnesota by reading Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and I thought a lot about how both writers described the area and how things were done during these two very different time periods. I loved the setting and thought Helget did a fantastic job with it.

The town of Stillwater takes on the characteristics of an actual character in the story, so strong is it's connection to the entire book. There are many things going on in this town during this seething and changing time in American history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and enjoyable story. April 12, 2014
By Morrie
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a story that grabbed me from the start and didn't let go. Well written with some twists and turns. Thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Irma G.
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Having visited Stillwater, Minnesota last summer, I thought it might be fun to read a story about this setting. What turned me off from this book were the characters. I wanted to feel empathy or at least a little sympathy for them, but they were grim and unlovable. I am sure this is an important book with a lot of historical information, but I dropped it partway through because I couldn't get past the gray cloud of misery that opens the book. If you read it all the way through, let me know if it gets better.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moral Dilemmas Abound March 23, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Stillwater was an interesting read. Set in territorial Minnesota in the 1850s, it explored the lives of fraternal twins abandoned and separated shortly after birth. There were several instances of characters struggling with the issues of slavery, treatment of Native Americans, the changing nature of the frontier, the question of nature vs nurture, the idea of a twin bond, and love (in all its variations). While the ending left me conflicted, I would recommend this work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Stillwater, by Nicole Helget, is a literary work that delves into the most vile places in people, yet also into the most compassionate places all at the same time. Her light staccato prose rich with deep accents and personalities and characters with pain and emptiness, all searching for connections, to someone who cares for them, during such volatile times that were the late 1800s in small pioneer towns such as this one located in Minnesota.

Set during the times of The Civil War, I didn't know exactly what to expect of the novel, but it really doesn't at all focus on anything about the Civil War. People located Minnesota were fairly far removed from it, being so far up North, except for some of the soldiers from the North who "deserted" the war often fled far and bounty hunters were looking for quick cash. The book really focused on a pair of twins from Stillwater, who were separated from an orphanage when they were just young, the girl Angel going to a rich family in the town and the boy, Clement, being left at the orphanage with the nun and the Native American woman who lived there with her and helped her to care for the children. Not to give spoilers, but she became his mother he never appreciated throughout his life and Angel's mother tried to be rid of her after adopting her. Because of their bond as twins, even living in different worlds, they found each other and connected in eerie ways.

The novel has a very gothic feel, a dark undertone revealing the sad parts of human nature. The carnal desires, the crude ways of people who fight to survive in the most dire of circumstances as was the frontier.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read. Held my interest
Good read. Held my interest
Published 1 month ago by Judy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good read.
Published 1 month ago by Joe Grammond
3.0 out of 5 stars Semi-good.
Clement and Angel are fraternal twins separated at birth; they grow up in the same small, frontier logging town of Stillwater, Minnesota. Clement was left at the orphanage. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Tonya Speelman
3.0 out of 5 stars Clement and Angel are twins, born to a young ...
Clement and Angel are twins, born to a young woman who is ill equipped to take care of them. They are left at the Stillwater Home for Orphans and are destined to lead very... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alice Chirevas
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read for a Minnesotan!
I ordered this book because I live in Minnesota, so a novel about Stillwater caught my eye. I found it to be a good read that did not romanticize the harsh conditions of life here... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Rabbi Yonassan Gershom
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 2 months ago by grannie
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and had promise, but...
I read this book for my Book Club. Overall, I think the story was interesting and had promise but it fell short of my expectations. Read more
Published 2 months ago by ET
3.0 out of 5 stars funny in places
Three and an half stars. A very unexpected book. To say that it is about twins in Minnesota in the mid-1800s while true is far from informative. Read more
Published 3 months ago by P erry Carter
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed reading
As a lover of historical fiction and also a Minnesota, I enjoyed reading Stillwater. It gave me a glimpse into what it was like living here in the 1800's and again respect for... Read more
Published 3 months ago by M.A.P.
4.0 out of 5 stars Richly written characters
Richly written characters, an interesting plot, and well executed literary mashup: Stillwater is a book that will have wide appeal. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Epilady
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More About the Author

Born in 1976, NICOLE LEA HELGET grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, a childhood and place she drew on in the writing of her memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways. She received her BA and an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Based on the novel's first chapter, NPR's Scott Simon awarded The Turtle Catcher the Tamarack Prize from Minnesota Monthly.

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