A violent act occurs one afternoon in Susannah Reed’s young life, a heinous attack that leaves her life choices shattered, her intended marriage almost impossible, and marriage to her attacker all but inevitable. It is 1877, and Susannah is fifteen. There are two staples in Susannah’s world: her desire to become a lawyer, and her long-time love for John Couseau.
The two had planned to marry, Susannah putting her law studies on hold in favor of Johnny’s career. The concept of a woman as a lawyer is nearly laughable, though Susannah, unlike most women of her generation, is determined to realize her dream: “He doesn’t support your dream… he will sabotage it.” That one terrible afternoon jeopardizes everything.
Passionate about the equality of women, Rymer carries Susannah’s banner, telling the story of a young woman who braves the reactions of a rigid society to make her dreams come true, to be a lawyer and a wife to the man she loves. What had once seemed an available goal becomes a nightmare of epic proportions after Susannah’s ordeal, but one that proves the strength of her character and the will to overcome daunting odds.
Aside from the legal problems created by the attack on her person, Susannah endures an ongoing threat to her well-being, although she is heartened by Johnny’s steadfast loyalty, even through a humiliating trial. Rymer’s heroine is a modern woman, hardworking and conscientious, plunging into a law practice in Illinois where she is safe and given the opportunity to prepare for her exam and certification.
But even in her hour of triumph, Susannah’s choices are wrought with complications, the impropriety of mixing career with marriage in a male-dominated society. By this time, the reader expects nothing less than courage in this woman determined to have the life she has imagined since youth.
A pioneer, Susannah strides through the obstacles before her, bowing to the blows but never giving up, aided by like-minded family members and friends. Some would call her pariah, certain her beloved Johnny is not prepared to be made a laughingstock over his intended’s profession, although he has remained loyal throughout every phase of her ordeal. But is he a man prepared to share the spotlight? Personal troubles aside, Susannah is thrilled to have clients who desperately need her help, reaping the many rewards of working on behalf of the disenfranchised.
Perhaps the oddest part of an otherwise eminently readable novel-cum-lesson is the characters’ stilted speech, the awkward pretentiousness of Victorian language as reflected in Susannah’s statement: “Rainmaker? I’ve heard the term, but please explain exactly what you mean by that.” The entire novel reads this way, as though it is an awkward stage play where the perfection of grammar is more important than human emotions. Or perhaps it is lawyer-speak, where flexible, spontaneous dialog is a bridge too far.
A drama that practically writes itself, this is a tale for believers who hang on to their aspirations in spite of daunting odds, who face the impossible and tragic, only to triumph, as does this exceptional young woman.