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Stillwater Hardcover – February 4, 2014
A girl with loyalty to both sides in a war—and the dangerous opportunity to save lives. Learn More
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"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"
"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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I put off reading the book for months as a couple of people told me it was okay in their mind. It took a few pages and then I was hooked. Read morePublished 5 months ago by colleen
A native Minnesotan....raised 20 mi from Stillwater. Enjoyed the history, well developed characters, and the Native American ' mysticism '. Read morePublished 9 months ago by kathryn berfelz
Highly recommended! Odd and unusual characters. Loved the history and setting. Quirky story that kept my attention. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Note
The book did not hold grab my interest at all and I quit reading it half way through.Published 10 months ago by J. Shepherd
I wouldn't automatically reach for a book about pioneering life in Minnesota, but the author populates her book with a very unusual cast of characters, vivid details, and Native... Read morePublished 11 months ago by C. M. Barrett
I picked this paperback up from the Book Soup booth at the LA Festival of Books because of its promise of a mid-19th century setting and mystical elements - right up my historical... Read morePublished 11 months ago by L. Lueders
The book was not what I expected and my book club gave it a thumbs down.Published 11 months ago by lam
Interesting story but slow in places and jumped back and forth in time. Good character development. Good descriptions of the seasons and the land.Published 12 months ago by David H