Daughters of the New World

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Family novels are often described as “sprawling” and “expansive” and “grand.” Susan Richard Shreve’s novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE NEW WORLD, is none of these things, for she is a skilled and serious writer of fiction who has worked in the world of the family novel before. She is a writer who knows how to control her fiction, particularly when that fiction spans (as it does in this novel) five generations of American women and one hundred years of American history.

The novel is a study of individual and familial legacies, as Shreve describes the lives of a succession of imaginative and powerful women, all linked by blood and character. The line begins with the arrival from Wales of Anna Jermyn in the 1890’s, who establishes the physical and emotional connection between mother and daughter that will run throughout the novel. Anna writes letters to her mother (who died on the Atlantic crossing) as a way of both keeping herself, and her mother’s memory, alive and whole. These letters come down through the family, adopted and adapted by other mothers and other daughters; new forms of connection are made, as well, as mothers dictate onto tape and into photographs the family record.

The women of this family are notably strong and significant. Anna’s daughter, Amanda (known as A Man to her Chippewa friend and lover), grows into the artistry of photography, and makes part of her reputation by masquerading as a man in order to capture...

(The entire section is 410 words.)