Epicenter: A Sweeping Historical Novel of Forbidden Love by Carrie Hannah is a hypnotic novel that follows four women, each dealing with a painful conundrum and making a life-altering decision. The question is: Can they beat the odds and craft the life of their dreams?
At sixteen, Caitlyn’s father sells her to pay his gambling debts. The only person Caitlyn can turn to is the Black man, Coltrane, who works for her family, and with the disturbing circumstances at home, Coltrane and Caitlyn set out on a journey westward, a journey that will try them in ways they never imagined. To escape from her abusive husband, Liah flees China, disguised as a man. Marianna leaves Colombia and travels north in search of the father of the child she carries in her womb, and One Feather, the last member of her Native American tribe travels south in search of a future. What future and what life await these four women? Follow these women as they move towards San Francisco, a place that might hold answers to their dreams — love, even forbidden love, family, and purpose.
Epicenter is a suspenseful tale that is written in wonderful prose and Hannah’s superior storytelling skills meld with the lyrical character of the writing to produce a stellar literary piece that is delightful. Each character is imagined in a world that presents a stunning predicament, written with a sophisticated and painful background. While Caitlyn has enjoyed the freedom of being taught to ride — a privilege denied to women —by Coltrane, her world is upended by her father’s cruelty. One Feather suffers the loss of her only sister and she has seen her land transformed by the white miners who brought both disease and alien notions about ownership of the land when they came looking for gold. Readers instantly feel connected to these characters, thanks to the deft exploration of their worlds. The inner conflict in Liah is unmistakably clear: “As the sun rose, Liah shivered, not from the chill in the air, but from the fear of what she was about to do. Once she stepped from the shadows, she risked being seen by anyone who may have found her husband’s body. But she was as fearful of what lay ahead.” Readers will ache for these characters and they will want to know what becomes of them.
A remarkably assured novel featuring elaborately developed female characters, this tale brilliantly combines pathos and suspense to deliver an immersive reading experience. Hannah balances her clever plot with the relentless quest of her heroines, unveiling complexities in characterization as the plot moves forward and she deftly handles the conflict. This is a wonderful tale about changing one’s destiny and the quest for purpose. The energy that permeates the writing reflects the grit that is characteristic of these four women. Epicenter is a work of beauty that is brimming with historical elements and that features a wonderfully wrought setting and characters that will linger on any reader’s mind long after the book is put down. Perfect for book clubs.