What I'm Reading: The Underground River

I read many books that I enjoy, but it's only occasionally that I read something that I envy as a writer, thinking, "I wish I had written that." Martha Conway's novel, The Underground River, falls into that category.

Set in 1838, it's the story of a plain-speaking, awkward seamstress who falls in with a theatrical troupe that travels the Ohio River. After she's blackmailed into helping slaves flee northward to freedom, her feelings about slavery undergo a (river) change. There's a sweet love story, too.

It's rare to read an historical novel that pulls you into its time and place without a lot of "signalling," but this book does that with grace. And in a genre that is still haunted by the ghost of Harriet Beecher Stowe, it's even rarer to read a novel that handles the moral issue of slavery without moralizing.