The Awakening of La Muse
S. R. Strickland
The genre of historical fiction is loaded with imaginings and retellings of European aristocrats, American heroes during wars for freedom, and the ever present obsession with mid-20th century war. Therefore, finding a well-crafted, well research novel telling a story outside these tired and ultimately futile tropes is both a challenge and, when found, a boon. Such is the case with S. R. Strickland’s The Awakening of La Muse, a work melding slave narrative with historical fiction. Stickland’s prose moves with ease and surety as it unwinds a tale at once familiar and unsettling easily dispelling myths of history while revealing truths through her fictive lens.
Muse is a teen when she is sexually assaulted by her Virginian owner’s son. The solution to this impropriety by the family’s future is to have Muse accompany her owner’s daughter to Europe. Removing the temptation as it were. This side-stepping of the issue serves as a rather astute metaphor for how the United States dealt with slavery in the lead up to the Civil War. In Paris, Muse comes to realize she is hardly a subhuman creature, an idea literally been beaten into her and other African-Americans, and ought to live for herself. Although she escapes from the tyranny of American slavers, her success is precarious as she ekes out an independent existence as a seamstress only to find herself the quarry of a bounty hunter set on reclaiming runaway human property.
Readers encounter a sweeping tale covering vast distances as our hero Muse strives to break free and live an authentic life. The Awakening of La Muse is able to weave the thriller fetish for action with a well researched and meaningful slave narrative bent on giving voice to willfully forgotten struggles. Strickland’s novel is patient and her prose easy, yet this belies her story’s impact. We encounter ‘good’ whites as well as rich, wretched whites who seem to only understand the world through their own lens of unearned privilege and stolen property. Even in Europe where Muse encounters a people less corrupting of human rights and decency, racist thinking is deeply ingrained. This may be the most compelling aspect to Strickland’s novel, the casual way she has readers stare at their original sin. Through the character of Muse, whose innocence and naivety turns to earnestness and kindness as she matures while never shirking the grim realities of her station, we are given a set of unblinking eyes enduring the irrational cruelty of human degradation.
About the Author
Inspiration is a curious, complex emotion…dare I use the word emotion? It is different for everyone. For me, that door flew open once I moved to Europe: London, Munich, Augsburg…travel was the magical key. I inserted it and turned. It took me away from my country and culture, yet somehow freed me. No expectation, no labels other than the American. I became a sponge soaking up the exposure to unfamiliar disciplines: literature, music, architecture, and fashion. But the writing bug didn’t bite until I returned to the United States. It seemed to scribble fictitious tales kept my traveling experiences alive. A vortex of data always churning in my mind.
But it was the sixteen-year-old Muse, a runaway American slave who presented herself and absorbed all of my attention. Who was she? What did she want? Where was she going? But most of all, how would she survive? Peltier, the bounty hunter. What drove him? What fears and mental disorders possessed him? Why does he hate so? And the city of Paris circa1855, a time of renovation, recreation, and evolving into the modern city we recognized today.
The Awakening of La Muse, historical fiction, is my debut novel. A five-year journey. What a ride!