Pieces of Yesterday is aptly labeled a quilting romance. The title alone is a clever clue to the story’s focus. With the exception of a wrenching prologue, the novel is as seamless and comforting as a cherished old quilt. Imagine the bane of your youth returning and your being savvy enough to recognize he’s your man. Of course, this is a work of romantic fiction, so realizations of deep emotional love between the hero and heroine are accompanied by false starts, sidestepping and some major attitude adjustment.
Sisters Estelle and Charlotte Wilson, inseparable as twins in their childhood, separated in 1860, when Charlotte ran away with a tinker who offered respite from a domineering father. Stella never saw her sister again.
Twenty-nine years later, a newly widowed Stella Paine lives with her daughter, Alexandria, in an abandoned bakery in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where they attempt to eke out a living selling baked goods, while working toward Alex’s dream of owning a quilting store. By the late eighteen-eighties, the Potomac River town of Harpers Ferry is fading into the genteel obscurity that it enjoys today.
After running away to sea as a teen, Rush Duncan has prospered. He owns his own canal boat and earns a good livelihood and some spiritual comfort ferrying goods between Washington, D.C. and Cumberland, Maryland. Growing up in Harpers Ferry as the bastard son of a woman seduced by a philandering soldier, Rush’s youth was burdened by the disdainful attitude of “better” folks. One of his few supporters was Herman Paine, who recognized Rush's potential, and tried to convey that to his daughter,
Alexandria, when she complained about her braids being stuck in an inkwell or
some other youthful torment.
Rush Duncan arrives at the Paines’ door with Charlotte’s daughter, ten-year-old Caroline Swift. Caro and her family lived in a soddie in Nebraska. When Caroline’s entire family -- mother, stepfather and baby brother -- die of cholera, neighbors burn their house and all its contents before her eyes and turn her over to an elderly couple. At some point she is delivered to a kindly sea captain in New Orleans, who promises to help return Caroline to her relatives in Harpers Ferry.
The major focus of this story is how Stella and Alex achieve a more complete life through their efforts to integrate Caro into their family. Caro’s situation is intricately tied to the fruition of Alex’s quilting room.
Otten used illegitimacy as an isolator in a prior book, Cross Roads. While the subject of Rush’s parentage is pivotal in Pieces of Yesterday, the author never allows this sad byproduct of wartime to turn the story into a maudlin tearjerker. It is a fact which helps the reader understand Rush’s tender care of Caro and his reluctance to acknowledge his love for Alex.
With the exception of some hyperbolic townspeople, proportionality is a hallmark of Pieces of Yesterday. There is no BIG crisis between the hero and heroine. Rush realizes he loves Alex, but he continually denies their suitability. Even on “the morning after” he is flailing about seeking reasons to feel uncomfortable with his unaccustomed feelings of love for Alex. He reverts to his earlier defense mechanism of sarcasm, making fun of her to avoid his own insecurities’ controlling him. His denial is overdone, undermining the credibility of an otherwise well-crafted storyline.
There is a problem with the timing in the book, which never worked for me no matter how many times I double-checked the chapter headings and added, subtracted and compared ages of Caroline and Alexandria and Charlotte.
Despite those minor flaws, other aspects of this book will attract certain readers. This story is very gentle. Otten has created a nearly perfect balance between two very attractive protagonists. Her attention to detail in her recreating late nineteen-century Harpers Ferry is worth noting. Pieces of Yesterday is an enjoyable read, which I recommend, especially to all you quilters out there.