Title: Pins & Needles
Series: Minnesota’s Main Street Women
Author: Cynthia Frank-Stupnik
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Note: I was provided with a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. While I was an editor on the first book in this series, Scruples & Drams, I had no professional involvement in this sequel.
Frank-Stupnik’s Minnesota’s Main Street Women series does not disappoint. First with Jennie Phillips and now with Maude Porter, the unheard, real-life stories of early Clearwater, Minnesota, residents are coming to light. These women don’t exactly fit the narrative for what we think of when we think of women living in the early twentieth century. Neither of these women married, and both ran their own businesses in town, thriving in an age when most women worked in their homes.
Maude Porter was one of the first white babies born in Wright County, and under the tutelage of her aunts and mother, becomes a milliner (hat-maker) for the other women in town. We hear of the work that goes into making these elaborate creations, from steaming and shaping the felt to adding colorful feathers, ribbon, and Maude’s signature yellow bird in a nest, and can only wonder at these bygone works of art. But while Maude makes a good living for herself, working and socializing in town and living by herself at the family farm, danger lurks in the form of Pat Quinn’s saloon—or, more accurately, in the men who patronize the bar.
Maude is an advocate for women’s suffrage and a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU, which makes her some enemies in Clearwater. Outspoken about her desire to see Quinn’s saloon shut down, she is assaulted and stalked by men who hope to scare her. Little do they realize that these incidents only strengthen her resolve to see Clearwater become a dry town. Amid all the danger, Maude still has to carry on her business above George Boutwell’s hardware store, trying not to drag him into the mess.
The histories of some of the county’s early residents are woven into the narrative of the story, most notably Maude’s parents, T.C. and Abigail Porter. We also see some of the characters we were first introduced to in Scruples & Drams, including Jennie Phillips and her siblings and Livy Paisley. This story takes place some years after Scruples, and it’s interesting to see what some of these characters have been up to in the time since and how Clearwater has changed. We are also introduced to do some wonderful new characters, such as Maude’s uncle Tarrance and her friend Amy McDonald, who both add such light and life to the story.
One interesting element to Pins & Needles is the phenomenon of some of the women of the town not marrying. For both Maude and Jennie, we see this is because they want to be independent and run their own lives, and in this story, we get to see Maude’s past love life. I really enjoyed these scenes, imagined as Maude remembering good times with her Boston-born friend Amy, which leads to Amy introducing her to a nice young man named Will Cannon. I won’t spoil how it all goes down, but seeing as how we already know Maude never married, you can guess what happens. Regardless, Frank-Stupnik spins a heartbreaking tale of early love and loss, richly illustrated for the reader.
I really only have one complaint about the book, and it might just be because I work as an editor and thus am hyper-aware of these things, but the book maybe could have had one more proofreading pass. I have no wish to pass blame on anyone, but there were some pretty glaring errors, such as a horse named “Daisy” in one sentence and “Daisey” in the very next. I know as well as anyone that typos fall through the cracks all the time, but, well, there were a lot. However, please do not let that dissuade you from reading the book!
The story at its heart is as good one, and one that we really don’t hear when we learn about the history of our state. We know the names of all the men who had roles in founding the state of Minnesota, but how many of the women do we know? Frank-Stupnik is illuminating the lives of everyday women who lived and worked in Minnesota’s small towns, showing us that there is not one single narrative of early women residents. I can’t wait to see which of Minnesota’s Main Street Women Frank-Stupnik decides to highlight next.