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Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

The seeds that grow and inflate the smallest minds into giants, those who believe they can take down anyone with their petty realities, was what she saw full-blown in Pursey.  It mattered not whether his reality was based on prejudice, fear, or just plain ignorance, the end result would be the same, ruined lives.

(from The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, page 106)

In 1895, the news that playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor for “gross indecency” (i.e. homosexuality) rocks the small town of Red River Pass, Nevada.  The town’s gossips are all riled up; after all, it was only a few years ago that rumors about two men from town hugging each other prompted one of them to commit suicide.  Mildred Dunlap, a woman known for her unattractive, manly looks but big heart, prefers to live a quiet life with her cousin, Edra.  When she overhears the vicious comments, she knows these gossips won’t stop until they draw blood.  These women are itching for a fight — and that strikes fear in Mildred’s heart.

The town knows Mildred and Edra are inseparable, related to a tragedy that understandably made Edra afraid to venture far from home and distrustful of people outside her family circle.  What their neighbors don’t know is that Mildred and Edra are more than just cousins and old friends, and Mildred is worried that the flames that have erupted from the news about Wilde’s lifestyle and imprisonment will burn down the world she and Edra built on their love.  Mildred comes up with a plan to take the heat off her and Edra, but will it complicate things even more?

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap is a very timely novel given the recent victories for same-sex marriage.  Paulette Mahurin has created a strong character in Mildred, but it hurt my heart that people saw her as ugly when her generosity and kindness made her beautiful.  It also made me sad that she had to sink to such depths to protect herself and Edra — and that she felt like it was her only choice.  Mahurin’s tender descriptions of Mildred’s and Edra’s relationship, the ease of their everyday life, and the normality of it, make a great contrast to the ignorant and vicious comments of the local women in the general store and how they treat Mildred based on her appearance.  Watching Mildred strike up a friendship with the widowed Charley Milpass and how he came to see the real Mildred was heartwarming.

Mahurin does a great job setting the scene.  I’ve never read a novel set in the Old West, but she really brings to life a small frontier town, where a trip to the general store to see telegrams of the latest news was the highlight of one’s day.  The supporting characters were surprisingly well developed, with even the villain getting a backstory, and it reminded me of Jane Austen’s Emma in that the town was one’s world.

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap is a thoughtful novel about hatred and prejudice in many forms and the power of rumors and gossip to ruin one’s life.  It’s about how easily people can be intimidated into following the crowd and how easily we judge people by their looks.  It would make a great book club selection given the numerous layers to the story, from the obvious topic of homosexuality to the themes of love, friendship, and acceptance that are at its core.

About the author:

Paulette Mahurin devotes a lot of her time to animal rescue. All profits from her book are going to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (SPARC), the first and only no-kill shelter in Ventura County, CA, where she lives with her husband and two dogs from a kill-shelter, Max & Bella. Mahurin made the decision to donate all profits after her beloved dog of 15+ years, Tazzie (a rottie from a kill shelter), died. When she went to rescue new dogs, all the sad faces on death row, coupled with her heartache over the loss of her long time best friend, moved her to do more than just rescue dogs; therefore, all profits go to help get animals out of kill-shelters and into their forever homes. Feel free to friend SPARC on Facebook and visit their website.

Book 42 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap from the author for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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