Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
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With Hamilton: An American Musical taking the US by storm, I knew it wouldn't take long for someone to capitalize on the idea of a novel about Eliza. I also knew I would be first in line to get it. Eliza in the musical is sweet, loyal, devoted and the perfect person to balance the ambitious, fiery Hamilton. I loved the idea of focusing on her point-of-view and learning more about her story beyond Alexander.
Historical facts not treated as spoilers.
I heard the soundtrack of the musical playing in my mind the entire time I was reading this, and was thoroughly disappointed when they ended at the same time. After looking forward to reading about Eliza's life after Hamilton - she outlived him by 50 years - I discovered that this author has decided that only the Alexander years were interesting. In fact, the entire story reads that way. Eliza is almost obsessed with her husband and has no interests or passions of her own besides bearing his children. Some of this is appropriate. Eliza was a woman of her time and was devoted to her husband, but that's why it would have been nice to learn more about her life after his death.
When Alexander meets the Schuyler sisters, it is a bit different than the vision of Angelica, Peggy, & Eliza sneaking into downtown NYC to find an 'urchin who can give you ideals.' In fact, anyone who knows their history primarily from the musical will be disappointed to discover that Angelica did not decide to introduce Alexander to Eliza after her epiphany of 'three fundamental truths.' She was Angelica Church long before she met Hamilton, though she did famously flirt with him and seemingly most men she came into contact with. (This and a few other themes are repeated incessantly. Angelica flirts. Alexander works too hard & is so much smarter than anyone else. Eliza is soooo in love....and always pregnant.)
This novel adheres more strictly to historical truths than the musical, which is probably its greatest strength. Hamilton comes across largely the same. 'I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish. The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish. I gotta holler just to be heard. With every word, I drop knowledge!' Eliza almost manages to remain a supporting character in her own story. And maybe there's a reason she is not usually brought to the forefront. Her story is bland. Her never-ending pledges of undying love and telling the reader how handsome and brilliant her husband is just doesn't captivate. I found myself waiting for the big moments that I knew were coming so that the novel would get an injection of drama.
Except that didn't happen. When Eliza reads the Reynolds Pamphlet, she takes less time to get over it than it takes Phillipa Soo to sing 'Burn,' and Philip's death did not create anywhere near the emotional impact that I expected. This Eliza can accept anything as long as Alexander still pledges his love to her.
And then it's over. Of course, I had guessed this based on the remaining pages shrinking to a point that there was no way another 50 years was going to be covered, but I held out irrational hope until the bitter end. More of Eliza's post-Alexander life is revealed in 'Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.'
Admittedly, I do not typically read romance novels, and this seems to be getting great ratings from readers who look more specifically for this genre. In my opinion, there was a bit too much gloss and not enough emotion to get a reader truly involved. Still, it is a quick read for 400ish pages and has some good historical nuggets included.
I received this book through NetGalley. Opinions are my own.