FINDING UTOPIA , a romantic thriller inspired by true events, shares a touching story of love and loss, dreams realized and dreams cut short, woven through the lens of a misguided love that shatters lives and leaves a town in ashes. Set in in the rural Hill Country of Utopia, Texas, between 1917 and 1926, the story will linger long after you reach the end.
Maizelle Clarke, the town doctor's daughter, elopes with Will Jones, an auto mechanic, against her father's wishes. He disowns her and cuts her off from her siblings and the family she loves. Embraced by her new husband's mother, she learns how to be a wife and mother, at the older woman's elbow.
The young couple create an idyllic life for themselves and their growing family until tragedy strikes, throwing the mother of three into a deep depression that threatens her marriage, her family, and all she holds dear. As she struggles to climb out of the darkness another baby is born, giving her hope, a reason to live, and repair her fractured relationships.
Just as she is able to move forward again, A misguided love brings a night of terror onto the community and a dark secret threatens the family and the community's very existence.
A story of deep love, enduring friendship, loss and redemption, FINDING UTOPIA, is a tender story, at times gritty, and always gripping as it carries you to a surprising climax.
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Utopia buried itself that day.
For a great deal of this book, Utopia is found as the two main characters, Will and Maidee, begin a romance in this little town, all on the brink of the Great War. For the most part, the author volleys back and forth between Maidee's innocent young girl thoughts (as she is only 14 years old when the story opens) and Will's (who is 10 years older than her). Some readers might squirm a bit as this romance blossoms since the age difference and her being so young, but historically this was not an unusual age for young girls to fall in love, get married, and start having babies. It was quite common in this time period, and the age of marriage in the state of Texas at the time was 15. However, with our new modern sensibilities and with Will being a 'man', the beginning of the storyline might feel a bit unsettling.
“I know what came over you. You're carrying another Jones boy inside that little body. They have a way of bringing out these little fits of emotion, so you might as well get used to it.”
Maidee shows a maturity at her age as the story progresses, and she takes on the responsibility of her new family after she and Will get married... but lurking in the shadows of this story is a character who unsettles the reader even more than the age difference of the main characters. This 'man-child', akin to the familiar characters in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'Of Mice and Men', forms an unhealthy attachment to Maidee early on, and his jealousy of Will and this budding relationship forms the dark thread which runs through the narrative.
For the most part, the story proceeds along at a slow pace, following all the ins-and-outs of a newly married couple, getting to know the in-laws, and Maidee's trying relationship with her father who shunned her after she married Will. While the slow pace, you do, as a reader come to root for them to have a happy life and that her father will eventually come around but as each child is born (boys, boys, and more boys) nothing changes between Maidee and her father. What does change is the deepening of Jimmy's obsession with her, resulting in a sudden change of pace and action in the latter half of the novel. Without giving anything away (no spoilers), the author's writing style seems to quicken along with the change of pace, and the deepening of her descriptions and lengthening of the passages of certain scenes helps to keep the reader in the throes of action until the very end. And not just the action, but the raw emotion of some quite tragic events; some of which might be very difficult for some readers who have suffered assaults and the loss of loved ones.
As for Maidee, she had crawled so deep inside herself I couldn't reach her. She shunned conversation, seemed burdened with fear and anxiety, and flinched at the slightest noise or touch. Katherine told me she wouldn't even go to the chicken house alone. Katherine and I both came to dread the nights when she woke screaming.
Because the story changes from being a burgeoning utopian romance to the pains and problems associated with real life, and with real crime, the characters take on a more dimensional personality and life as the story progresses, which is a good thing since a reader comes to truly care about what happens to them. And there is a lot that happens, so be prepared to grab a handkerchief.
Few people talked about what had happened in our midst. No one mentioned the deep unease that swept through the community. People were afraid to make eye contact with me. It looked like everyone felt guilty about something.
The author does a commendable job in recreating this unknown history of her grandmother and grandfather, and when the reader comes to know that some of the story develops from the author's knowledge and research of the actual town and her family, then the characters and what happens to them takes on an even greater meaning. In truth, for the author to take on the challenge and deal, as we know she must have, with some of the issues with such detail and clarity, is remarkable. For anyone who loves a developing story of a sleepy (at first) little southern Texan town, a budding romance, the issues of dealing with a severely handicapped family member whose mental impairment takes away all understanding and judgement, and the despair of grief and loss, then this is the story for you.
“Finding Utopia” by Linda Weber receives 4.5 stars from the Historical Fiction Company
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