Review: Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits With Gun
Amy Stewart
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; September 2015
978-0-544-40991-0
Hardcover, 408 pages

The first two sentences lets readers know it’s 1914 and the Archduke of Austria had just been murdered (as in… WWI had just begun). This is the Progressive Era. Pre-Jazz Age. Motorcars and electricity are still fairly new and not everyone had it in their homes. Once readers understand that, they can enjoy the story to its full capacity.

Amy Stewart does a wonderful job at editorializing a true event. The Kopp sisters and their buggy had been run off the road by a motorcar driven by a drunk Henry Kaufman, the wealthy silk factory owner in Paterson, New Jersey. Little did Constance Kopp know that collecting the money Kaufman owed in damages would be a yearlong process, followed by harassment, arson, and kidnapping threats. As the oldest at 35 years old and standing at 6 feet tall, she’s unafraid to demand what’s owed ($50 in damages) via two written letters and a visit to Kaufman’s factory.

Henry Kaufman’s behavior is notorious to his family and the community. During the silk strikes, he wasn’t known for his generosity, but for basically punishing workers who participated in the strikes. In fact, he’s the type of person who believes he could get away by being a massive, terrorizing jerk and pay his way out of any legal problems because of his social status. So when Constance asks him to pay for damages to their buggy, she doesn’t realize that Henry takes this as a huge threat.

The Kopp sisters befriended Sheriff Heath, who sent deputies to guard the sisters’ home during this year of hell. And after the Sheriff learned that the Kopp sisters had a shotgun in the house, he decided to teach Constance and Norma how to shoot properly. The sisters guarded their home with pistols and the shotgun, wanting to prove to Henry Kaufman they’re not afraid to fight back.

Reaction:

What I loved about Girl Waits With Gun was that it stayed true to the historical period. Amy Stewart’s writing is very straightforward telling of facts and events; dialogue and a simultaneous story line are her fictionalizations, but the Kopp sisters and their encounters with Henry Kaufman are real. Stewart even used real headlines from papers in 1914-1915 and reproduced some of the threatening notes the sisters received.

Also, each sister had very distinctive personalities. While Constance was the oldest, there were times when Norma acted like the older sister (she was only a year or two younger than Constance). Norma, who somehow took an interest in carrier pigeons (they have a coop in their attic for all her pigeons), was cold and stern. She wanted to live a peaceful life on the farm and stay far away from Henry Kaufman so they could continue living their lives. Fluerette was a sweet girl of 17 and was learning to balance her adolescence with her womanhood. A young girl by nature but practically a woman by age, she liked the attention she received from Kaufman (as in… that she was desirable enough to be kidnapped) but still loved to put on plays and performances for her sisters and the deputies.

If I had to associate the Kopp sisters to the Golden Girls, Constance is Blanche, Norma is Sophia and Fluerette is Rose (fitting? Oui?).

Overall, I was pleased with the writing, the pace and the characters of Girl Waits With Gun.

4.5 out of 5
Purchased copy for personal collection

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