Review of CARRIE WELTON, by Charles Monagan (Penmore Press, March, 2016)
Charles Monagan raises the dead in his richly-imagined and deftly-plotted tale about Waterbury, Connecticut’s Carrie Welton, the fascinating woman for whom his novel is named.
Anyone passing through the former Brass Center of the World long enough to visit the Green will find her eyes drawn to a stone fountain graced with Carrie’s horse, Knight. Both horse and rider figure prominently in Monagan’s yarn about Carrie, a girl of privilege whose suffering belies the visible facts of her life in nineteenth-century Waterbury, a town burgeoning with commerce and possibility.
The reader follows Carrie from Waterbury to New York, Saratoga, Boston, and Colorado, drawn into her complexity along the way. Monagan knows how to vivify each of Carrie’s strengths and weaknesses, determination and dejection, obsessions and insecurities so that the reader comes to care about her as a fellow human being alive in a world like our own, one that is impossible to control and sometimes difficult to manage, let alone accept.
Monagan’s mastery of the diction and syntax apt for the historical setting of this book will delight the reader. The narrative voice, that of Carrie’s neighbor, Frederick J. Kingsbury, resonates with the measured, sure modulation that comes with privilege and noblesse oblige. The dialogue is crisp, always serving both the progression of plot and the deepening of character.
Surprises abound. Those of an historical nature–at the Saratoga racetrack or the Barnum and Bailey fire in New York City, among the galleries of famous and (infamous) artists of the day, even at Carrie’s homestead, Rose Hill itself–are replete with color and sound, gestures and missteps. Those imagined by Monagan allow the reader to realize, as she may already know but easily forgets, that no human being can completely fathom the secrets of another.
If your travel plans don’t include Waterbury, read Monagan’s book instead. It proves yet another sturdy monument to its heroine.