Minnesota twins, separated at birth

Jen McCormackI don’t think I’ve ever read a Civil War-era novel set in Minnesota before; generally those books take place in the South and feature bloody battles and the suffering of slaves and young soldiers.

Instead, Nicole Heglet has set her novel, Stillwater, in a Minnesota town that serves as a stop on the Underground Railroad but is still a pioneer town, populated by trappers and loggers and outlaws as well as abolitionists helping escaped slaves make it to freedom.

"Stillwater" by Nicole Helget is available at the library in hardcover.

“Stillwater” by Nicole Helget is available at the library in hardcover.

Angel and Clement grow up here not knowing that they are really twins, but with the certain knowledge that they share a special connection, mystical but very real.

The story of their birth and their childhood is wound through the larger story of Stillwater itself and the struggles of the people who live there. Chapters about the nuns helping runaway slaves alternate with haunting chapters like “Angel’s Doll,”  where the reader meets her truly evil mother and Angel finds a beautiful doll in a box underground.

Some of my favorite chapters feature Mother St. John and Big Waters at the orphanage where Clement is growing up. Heglet uses these characters to illustrate the clash between the missionaries and the Native Americans in the region, as the nuns try to “save” orphans by getting them adopted by white families.

If you like Stillwater
Here Heglet’s novel reminds me of many I’ve read by one of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, who writes about the Ojibwe in North Dakota.  Once you’ve finished Stillwater and want to try a book by Erdrich I recommend starting with one of her earlier works like The Beet Queen or Tracks.

About Jen McCormack

Jen McCormack is the director of the Nashua Public Library. Previously she was director of the Tewksbury (Mass.) Public Library and assistant director and reference librarian at the Amesbury (Mass.) Public Library. She studied history at UNH and earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

1 comment to Minnesota twins, separated at birth

  • Eleanor

    I will be adding this book to my “to read” list, and will try out Louise Erdrich as well. I will also return to this site in the future – not only are the reviews helpful, it’s a treat to visit (at least virtually) with my dear friend Jen!