cover image Midnight: Three Women at the Hour of Reckoning

Midnight: Three Women at the Hour of Reckoning

Victoria Shorr. Norton, $25.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-393-65278-9

Novelist Shorr (Backlands) starts from the intriguing premise of capturing a pivotal moment in the lives of three famous women—Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Joan of Arc—but falls short in her execution. In Austen’s life, Shorr finds a turning point in the writer’s acceptance and then refusal of a marriage proposal from a wealthy suitor; in Shelley’s, her coming to grips with her famous husband’s drowning; and in Joan of Arc’s, facing her sentence to be burned at the stake. In each case, Shorr provides factual background leading up to each woman’s critical juncture and enters imaginatively into the heads of her subjects, conjecturing what, for instance, Joan of Arc is thinking and feeling as she is being burned. Shorr, however, makes odd stylistic choices, such as the jarring overuse of sentence fragments, and has a propensity for wordy sentences that say too little (“Hampshire home—Jane Austen’s terroir, from which had sprung that precise variety of human comedy that connected her...”). Shorr is best with Joan of Arc, but her work too often does not live up to the potential promised by its fascinating women. (Mar.)