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September's Book
The Believers
by Janice Holt Giles

From the 1989 paperback edition (University Press of Kentucky):

In her historical novels about Kentucky, Janice Holt Giles has become known for the integrity with which she handles her materials and for the realism with which she writes. In The Believers, first published in 1957, she continues her series about the settling of Kentucky with a moving story of love and marriage set in a Shaker community.

Rebecca Fowler is only seventeen when she marries Richard Cooper. She cannot remember a time when she has not loved and trusted him and followed where he led. At first the marriage is happy; it is only after their first child is stillborn that Richard shows preliminary signs of religious fanaticism in his insistence that this is God’s punishment visited upon them. The Shaker missionaries newly arrived in Kentucky find him an easy convert.

When Richard joins the Shaker community, Rebecca goes with him, as a dutiful wife should, hoping that her love will ultimately win him back to her and to the larger world. She becomes part of a strange world in which men and women—even husbands and wives—live apart, coming together only for meals and for worship. As time passes and she sees Richard’s affection recede, only her stubborn honesty gives her the strength to deny lip service to a doctrine she cannot truly accept and, at the last, courage to follow the dictates of her heart.

In this novel, Mrs. Giles gives us a unique picture of everyday life in a Shaker village, one of the experiments in utopian communal living that are a part of American history. Realistically but with understanding, she shows us a society animated not only by saintliness but by bigotry and ordinary human frailties. She also shows us why utopia fails.

Janice Holt Giles lived near Knifley, Kentucky, from 1945 until her death in 1979. Her novels include The Kentuckians, Hannah Fowler, Miss Willie, Tara’s Healing, and These Enduring Hills.


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