Etta Place, notorious lover of the Sundance Kid, is one of history’s mysteries. Both her origins and her fate are completely unknown despite many guesses. Etta is given new life in this novel as a young Philadelphia debutante. Forced from her home at her father’s death, Lorinda Jameson becomes Etta Place and finds a refuge with scandalous criminals. A master horsewoman and sharpshooter with a gentle manner, Etta is perfect for assisting with train robberies and keeping hold of everyone’s money. Her circumstances constantly change, but Etta remains a strong, compassionate character throughout this engaging novel.
In this novel, Etta’s imagined story is given life through fictional letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings. Since so little is actually known about the real life Etta, I really liked this aspect of the book and felt that I could imagine these events actually happening more than if perhaps Kolpan had kept the story as a diary. The only ones I didn’t like were Harry Longbaugh’s letters to his father. In truth I didn’t really like Harry (the Sundance Kid) much himself. He remained a very shadowy character despite Etta’s love for him. The rest of the outlaws were similar, although I did like the women, Laura Bullion and the little Native American girl.
In fact, I’d say the character of Etta is the best part of this novel. She is strong, compassionate, independent, and stubborn. She deals with each issue with grace and dignity, even when she is required to fight for her life. I think her character is really what holds this novel together. I also particularly enjoyed the inclusion of Eleanor Roosevelt. Although all of this is fictional, I quite liked the glimpse into what her youth may have been like. I also was glad that Etta spent time in the East so that the author could portray more of the country than the initial description seemed to entail.
Overall, this was a pretty good work of historical fiction. The plot didn’t entirely captivate me and some of the characters were weak, but I enjoyed reading it.
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