"'I am not ashamed of any act of my life!'"

Hayes delivers an audacious debut novel that, at its core, is about the fight for sexual equality in late nineteenth-century America. But it is desire, disloyalty, bawdiness, hypocrisy, prophecy, and several other narrative elements that give that core its many engaging dimensions. In the story, an enticing spiritualist named Tennessee and her sister Victoria take America by storm with their needs, ideas, beliefs, and actions. One even decides to run for president! What's more, it is a world populated with many historical figures, including Harriet Beecher Stowe and Susan B. Anthony. Of course, just because the sisters are exceedingly bright and seductively cunning does not mean they can't find themselves in serious trouble, legal and otherwise. They do, and that simply adds another component that makes this book at once wholly traditional and completely original.

In the tradition of Ragtime author E. L. Doctorow, arguably the most skilled novelist of the modern era to incorporate historically accurate personalities into his fiction, Hayes has created a sweeping post-Civil War tale that holds up well despite its unconventionality. In addition to the story itself, with themes ranging from sexual freedom and voting rights to bigotry and American values, the author also includes a register of dramatis personae, excerpts from relevant guides, antique photos, a further reading list, topics for discussion, and other trimmings unusual for most novels. It's almost as if Hayes winked at her audience to say, "I'll write this novel the way I want," which is not entirely unlike the way the sisters at the heart of her story do things. Hayes' unique work shines with confidence and vision.

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