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Clement and Angel are fraternal twins separated at birth; they grow up in the same small, frontier logging town of Stillwater, Minnesota. Clement was left at the orphanage. Angel was adopted by the town’s richest couple, but is marked and threatened by her mother’s mental illness. They rarely meet, but Clement knows if he is truly in need, Angel will come to save him.
Stillwater, near the Mississippi River and Canada, becomes an important stop on the Underground Railroad. As Clement and Angel grow up and the country marches to war, their lives are changed by many battles for freedom and by losses in the struggle for independence, large and small.
Stillwater reveals the hardscrabble lives of pioneers, nuns, squaws, fur trappers, loggers, runaway slaves and freedmen, outlaws and people of conscience, all seeking a better, freer, more prosperous future. It is a novel about mothers, about siblings, about the ways in which we must take care of one another and let go of one another. And it’s brought to us in Nicole Helget’s winning, gorgeous prose.
Helget, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir The Summer of Ordinary Ways, sets her third novel in the harsh frontier of Minnesota around the time of the Civil War, where the explosion in logging activity transforms her characters as wholly as it does the landscape. What drives the narrative is the dark side of the pioneer spirit-the urge to abandon home and loved ones in search of opportunity. Helget's colorful cast struggles against an "every man for himself" frontier mentality: from a set of orphaned, separated twins named Clement and Angel; to their biological father, a ne'er-do-well fur-trapper named Beaver Jean; to Angel's nervous, abusive adoptive mother in her fine taffeta skirts; to the nuns and priests and native Americans and escaped slaves who fill out the titular town of Stillwater. The question of whether they will-or won't-take the risks to help each other survive gives the story some tension, but Helget's lyricism is what elevates it: "Wedged among the reeds of the shore, the swan's nest rested in a precarious position... Clement watched as the river took another few strands of the nest, and he was reminded of what happens when one thread is pulled from the cloth." Agent: Faye Bender, Faye Bender Literary Agency. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.