Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Just Doll by Janice Daugharty


The author of six previous novels, Daugharty turns to historical fiction in this story set in south Georgia a dozen years after the Civil War. Feisty, flirtatious 17-year-old Doll Baxter has been trying to make a going concern of the family farm, but the bills are mounting. When handsome, wealthy Daniel Staten offers to bail her family out of financial difficulty in return for her hand in marriage, she reluctantly agrees. As the new mistress of Daniel's plantation, Doll must contend with a longstanding, formidable housekeeper, who shows an unhealthy interest in Doll's new husband, and her own homesickness for the happy bustle of her mother's house. Most of all, she is faced with acknowledging her deep attraction to her new husband, who blithely takes off for days at a time, seemingly unaware of the fact that getting married might mean he should soften his independent streak. The skillful Daugharty brings to her idiosyncratic, visceral narrative both a great eye for physical detail and a deep wisdom about the push and pull of married life. 

Just Doll is a novel set in an impoverished area of southern Georgia in the 1800’s. The main industry for inhabitants of this area is the extraction of turpentine from the surrounding woods.

Seventeen year old Doll Baxter lives with her widowed mother and sister on a mortgaged farm upon which they struggle to make a living. A very wealthy neighbor named Daniel Staten comes calling and proposes to Doll, but she refuses him. When Daniel offers to pay off the family mortgage and back taxes and support her mother and sister, Doll knows she cannot refuse. She gives Daniel a long list of conditions including having her own bedroom and the ability to return home whenever she wants. As time passes, Doll begins to fall in love with Daniel, but when she discovers his philanderer of the worst sort, cavorting with whores and mistresses, Doll leaves him, eventually demanding her own home to raise their children.

The author has done a commendable job in demonstrating the hardships faced by southern people after the Civil War. The novel touches upon racial issues, extreme poverty, and the plight of women. The story spans several decades and takes the reader through adversities faced by the couple. It is a peak into a time in history where there was true suffering and hardships faced.

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