Living for 5 years in England for five years taught me the value of history. In the current climate that we live in today, I have had a fear that history is not nearly as important as it was. Along comes, MJ Pettengill and her book “Etched in Granite” to give us up that we are still connected to the past. “Etched in Granite” is a compelling and sometimes a dark look at the way people lived at the Poor Farms.
“Etched in Granite” is the story of Abigail Hodgdon, who is condemned to the poor farm, when both her parents pass away under tragic circumstances. Her father is killed during the civil war and her mother dies when the family farm burns down. Abigail is left distraught and blames herself for leaving her mother’s death. The night of the fire, left her mother alone to attend a barn dance and meet her love Silas Putnam. What only her sister knows is that Abigail is pregnant with Silas’ child and that night she planned to tell him, but when the farm burned down, she was forced back to the farm to try and save her mother.
Miriam and Moses Blake take her in to live with them. Moses is a kind man, who runs the Poor Farm. After a time Abigail discovers Miriam is a tyrant. Miriam treats Abigail more like a servant than a boarder and things become hard for her there.
Once, she reveals to both of them that she is pregnant with another man’s child, they send her to the Poor Farm. The conditions of the Poor Farm are wretched. The harsh treatment the inmates receive is horrible. Among the filth, death and sleeping on bed sacks, from the women and men that run it is horrible. Among the filth, harsh treatment, the death around her and poor sleeping conditions, Abigail somehow manages to survive with the help of an Indian woman named Nellie Baldwin. Nellie has been condemned to live there after her husband died in a mill accident. To make matters worse, Abigail, she has to deal with seeing Silas there every day, since he is the Foreman who runs the Poor Farm. Most of the story deals with their undying love for one another, that neither of them can act upon.
The book moves quickly. I found that I could not put it down. There were times, I found myself on the edge of my seat.
What I loved about the book, was the way MJ Pettengill cleverly told the story. The story is through the eyes of three people, Abigail, Silas, and Nellie. Each chapter is a diary of each character’s day. Chapters move fluidly as they are interwoven. Nellie’s story was the most compelling to me as she drifts in and out of flashbacks to tell the story of her life and then her day.