Lessons in Disguise

Kate Porter. Konstellation, $15 trade paper (350p) ISBN 978-0-9987482-1-4
Porter’s powerful debut follows a book passed down from a printer in 1820 Virginia through several of its owners up to 1975. After completing the gold foiling on the cover of a collection of facts and fables titled An Easy Standard, Alden Masters notices the pattern resembles three true-lovers knots and gives a copy of the book to his lover, Mary, who’s married to the local stonemason. When Mary passes the book on to her daughter, a chain begins that later includes Willy T., a man freed from slavery; a suffragette; a Vietnam War protester, and others. The book’s fables and advice are viewed by the fresh perspective of each successive owner (Willy takes heart in a poem about birds set “free as air,” while an immigrant from Norway picks up useful bits of geography and idioms), as they all draw on the book’s “many lessons in disguise” while facing the challenges of their own eras. Though the characterizations can feel as simplistic as the fables in An Easy Standard, Porter shows a strong grasp of history as she shifts seamlessly from one time period to the next, adjusting the vernacular in her prose without overdoing it. In the end, this well-meaning story succeeds at reminding readers of the precious value of the printed word. (Self-published)
Reviewed on : 03/19/2021
Release date: 05/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
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