Christie Wheeler is carrying quintuplets, only she doesn’t know it. It’s the turn of the last century and medical science isn’t exactly sophisticated enough for an ultrasound yet. All she knows is there’s something inside her – maybe a monster, or a demon, but definitely not a baby. But after she miraculously gives birth to five healthy, if tiny, babies inside her rural Kentucky home, she discovers that her pregnancy is just the beginning. She, the new babies, and the rest of her extended family soon get swept up in the country’s excitement over their extraordinary set of circumstances.
Feather Crowns is fiction, but it’s based on the true story of the first recorded birth of quintuplets in America. Even though the story nominally is centered around the babies, it’s really an examination of rural life in the early 1900s. Christie lives on a tobacco (‘tobaccer’, as she says) farm with her husband – and her husband’s extended family. While they have separate houses, it makes for a close living quarters indeed. So much family this close by can be a boon, though – Christie made having quintuplets plus three other children almost seem easy, since she had at least five other women to help her out! I found the most interesting part of the book to be learning about the customs and beliefs of people during this time period – that the men were served first at every meal, that women worked in the fields as well as the men, that finding a ‘feather crown’ inside a pillow was an omen of death.
The look back in time was definitely the most compelling part of the story for me. While the characters were interesting and developed, I myself had a hard time developing a connection with any of them. During parts of the story where the reader is supposed to be sad, I was just frustrated at the narrative. I also found the book to be longer than it needed to be – the plot meandered back and forth and felt stalled in several parts. There’s also something that happens halfway through the book which nearly made me put it down altogether – I won’t tell you what, for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say I was almost fed up. For the most part I ‘nothinged’ this book. While it was interesting to get a view of the early 1900s not set in urban New England, I found the storytelling too lacking to develop true feelings for the characters or their situations beyond frustration. I’m glad I finished it for the sake of finishing it, but I can’t truly recommend this book, even for historical fiction fans.
Title: Feather Crowns
Author: Bobbie Ann Mason
Dates read: July 10-21, 2016
Rating: Three stars