cover image The Lives of Diamond Bessie

The Lives of Diamond Bessie

Jody Hadlock. Spark, $16.95 trade paper (328p) ISBN 978-1-68463-117-9

In 1866, 16-year-old Annie Moore, the narrator of Hadlock’s arresting debut, falls in love and gets pregnant in Canton, N.Y. To spare her family shame, she is sent to a convent in Buffalo. She accepts her fate, believing it temporary, but after the nuns spirit her baby daughter away, she is inconsolable. Determined to earn a living and get her daughter back, Annie runs away from the convent and ends up in a “joy house” (aka brothel) in Watertown, where she finds support along with, surprisingly, strength and dignity in her new role as sought-after demi-mondaine Bessie. Then she falls in love with a jeweler’s son, Abe Rothschild, and they get married. She hopes to gain respectability, but those hopes are dashed when Abe turns out to have a violent streak. Drawing on a true story, Hadlock uses authentic period detail and well-drawn characters to pull readers into Annie/Bessie’s precarious journey toward redemption, which comes to an unexpected ending. This affecting tale of a 19th-century American woman struggling to prove her worth other than as a marriage prospect leaves a lasting impression. Agent: Jennifer Unter, Unter Agency. (Apr.)