Reviewer Judith Wright Favor is an elder member of Claremont Monthly, Southern California Quarterly, and Pacific Yearly Meetings. Her latest publication is the Pendle Hill pamphlet: Friending Rosie on Death Row.
In alternating voices, Judith Wright Favor and Rosie Alfaro take the reader on a frank, frustrating, and unforgettable journey. Friending Rosie: Respect on Death Row bridges the chasm between souls consigned to life behind bars, and souls enjoying the privileges of freedom.
Rosie’s letters from Central California Women’s Facility, interwoven with Judith’s reflections and questions, highlight perspectives from authors of different races, religions, and languages. Marginalized people stifle their stories when there is no one to hear, but mutual listening brings forth accounts of regret, doubt, humiliation, and grace. Some stories describe difficult encounters in prison. Family members with intimate knowledge of Rosie tell their stories. Other tales illustrate surprising parallels in the inner lives of both authors.
Judith follows the friendly path of Quakers who began in the 1650s to value women’s leadership and befriend prisoners. Rosie grew up Catholic, in a faith tradition that shaped her art and values. Both write stories interwoven with social challenges and spiritual practices intended to support readers in reaching out to persons behind bars.
8-12-20: “It’s yours, mine, and God’s book. I’ve been lettin people know about our book and about you. People are very interested in our story, and I know this is a start of a great journey. I’m very proud of us, friend… I wanted to tell you that to me this means nothing, but to lots of people who like crime stuff, me being the youngest and the first Latina to get the d. penalty in Calif. is a big deal. I’m personally ashamed of it, but there’s people who think it’s cool. I love you and you stay safe. Tu Amiga, Rosie”
Incarcerating our way to safety does not work. Friendships do work. These stories, rooted in caring and respect, offer a warmly satisfying testimony to the power of friending.
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by Eleanor Scott Meyers
ESMeyersPRESS, Claremont CA, 2018
Paperback, 282 pages, $18.95
Available online through Powells Bookstore and Amazon
Ruth meets Cassandra early in her marriage to Ed and gradually becomes central to a quietly piercing, entirely credible three-way love story that sustains an unwanted child, a large extended family, a small Midwestern town – and the reader – until death do us part.
Beloved lesbian commitment is not the book’s only, or even principal subject. One of the pleasures of The Compromise is how sturdily it takes shape in a rural Kansas community during the Depression and how carefully it skirts the high drama to which same-sex-advocate storytellers often resort. Readers will find no treachery in this novel, only delicately nuanced restraint as two women and one man bond in friendship through the hurts, doubts, joys and challenges of a permanently lopsided relationship. Son Taylor eventually “unriddles” his unconventional upbringing to uncover the legacy of being parented by a threesome. His wife Margaret, firmly rooted in the author’s own experience, speaks potently to the questions of generational pain that haunt our times. Her wise, calm voice testifies to the faith, hard work and enduring love that bring grace into the present.
This tri-fold romance unfolds at a deliberate clip with a sharp eye for peripheral detail. Meyers writes in muted, controlled images; she likes to show us the rooms her characters inhabit, the implements they use and the aprons they wear. Many scenes take place in dining rooms and kitchens; the story opens in a cemetery and closes after a funeral. Latter chapters detail the complexities of aging as Margaret helps Ruth and Ed wrestle with decisions about where to live, what to discard and how to manage their final years.
The Compromise is clearly the work of an artist who loves her subjects. In her first novel, Eleanor Scott Meyers gifts us with generational hope, faith and love conveyed in subdued, emotionally layered prose. Her sturdy characters comforted me as I kept vigil at my son’s deathbed. They will speak to Friends facing old age, a testimony to what love can do in complex personal relationships warmed by simplicity, truth, peace, integrity and community. Book discussion groups will find this novel rich in meaning.
Judith Favor is grateful for this loving glimpse into a rural Midwestern household upheld by Quaker values. She is a member of Claremont Meeting in California.