Fiction books are read for enjoyment and amusement. Those seem odd words when thinking of Randi Davenport’s THE END OF ALWAYS, a fictionalized account of a true story. Maybe it’s the fictionalization of a non-fiction story that changes the definition of it all. Either way, it’s not an easy story to read.
That’s not to say it isn’t a book that should be read. It should.
Set in Wisconsin in 1907, it’s sort of timeless in scope.
The story of a young girl who knows little beyond an abusive father, who is really the only male figure in her life, Maria Reehs seeks escape. Her escape is right into the arms of what she knows all to well. It’s a heartbreaking story, and sometimes heartbreak really can make for the most compelling reading.
Some of the story is fueled by the cultural of the German immigrants who settled in Wisconsin. Maria’s parents left Germany as adults and the stories of their homeland as told by her mother are as much a part of her life as the idea that a man can be horrifically cruel to his wife and daughters as shown by her father.
Maria is different, though.
She stands up, with the help of well-meaning and dedicated friends, and becomes one of the first women ever to get a divorce on the grounds of such cruelty. She’s never quite sure if it’s right, if she’s right to do what she does – whether as a daughter, a wife, or a woman – but she does it and she’s better for it in the end.
Men are still abusive to their wives and their daughters. And women still accept this as fact. Women still believe they can’t do anything other than pick themselves up and keep going until the next time they are knocked down, literally. THE END OF ALWAYS will teach anyone who reads it that there is hope. There is another option. All a woman needs is the strength not to fight, but to live.
Given that Davenport lists the places she found information on Maria Reehs and her husband, August Bethke, at the end of the book, the reader is inclined to do what any twenty-first century human would do and Google the names. Maybe it’s checking the author’s facts or maybe it’s simply the desire to have more of the story because how engrossing the book is. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be much digital information on them.
It makes little matter.
Maria Reehs is still an inspiration, especially as written by Randi Davenport.
(I received a copy of THE END OF ALWAYS through the Goodreads First Read giveaway program. This review will be cross-posted on Goodreads account and on my book review blog.)