cover image Hester


Laurie Lico Albanese. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-27855-5

Albanese (Stolen Beauty) imagines in her standout historical the inspiration for The Scarlet Letter. Her proxy for Hester Prynne is Isobel Gamble, a skilled seamstress who has synesthesia and left her native Scotland for the U.S. in 1829 after her apothecary husband Edward’s addiction to opium sent them to the poorhouse. Isobel’s father paid their way out, and the couple took passage onboard a ship bound for America. Once stymied in her ability to express herself creatively, in Salem she uses her talents with needle and thread. She has a chance encounter with writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, recognizing in him a kindred spirit yearning for freedom, a spirit that moves Isobel to risk her life to protect people fleeing slavery. Later, her independent-mindedness leads to suspicions of adultery. Albanese describes Isobel’s synesthesia brilliantly, such as in this memory of her cousins in a Scotland valley: “Their voices rise up in vibrant wisps of yellow and gold. The wind was sometimes fierce pink, and the sound of the waterfall on rocks glinted silver.” Even those unfamiliar with the classic will be hooked by this account of a capable woman standing up to the sexist and racial prejudices of her time. (Oct.)