This novel highlights the lives of three generations of residents of the New England island of Nantucket during the heyday of the whaling industry in the mid-19th Century. The male islanders make their living as merchants, farmers, teachers, lighthouse keepers, and crews of the various whaling vessels.
The events of the story are told from the viewpoint of two women who live on the island throughout their lives: Peggy Gardner Chase (from 1820 – 1824) and her daughter, Phebe Ann (from 1824 – 1869). In circumstances that many present-day wives of servicemen can identify with, the frequent extended absences of the husbands who were whalers meant that the Nantucket wife was a single parent most of the time since whaling voyages could last up to three years. Peggy spends her time planting and tending a vegetable plot, keeping house, making extra money creating shirts and dresses that the local merchant sold; and raising her children to believe in God, form loyal friendships, and be helpful and courteous to those around them. The title of the book refers to the singing ability that Peggy and Phebe share, which soothes husband and father Owen Chase when he is ashore and is occasionally afflicted with recurring severe migraines.
Their steadfast faith is an integral part of the lives of Peggy and Phebe Ann. Most of the songs throughout the story are hymns. Crises occur throughout the book – Peggy is almost forced by her parents to marry an older unsuitable man, kills a mad dog in their field, and copes for weeks with a mistaken report that Owen has been lost at sea. Phebe Ann is attacked by a vicious dog, later saves her future husband from a severe beating, and takes action when her stepmother is unfaithful to Owen while he is at sea. This praiseworthy 2018 book is the first one published by Bellevue University faculty member, Kaylene Powell. It can be found in the general collection at the Bellevue University Library, and can be borrowed for 21 days.
Originally posted in the Freeman/Lozier Library’s quarterly newsletter, More Than Books, V. 21 No. 4, Fall 2018.