If Diana K. Perkins’, “Jenny’s Way,” were a meal, you wouldn’t see it listed on the menu of an exclusive up-scale bistro; this novel doesn’t concern itself with the lives of the rich and famous. Neither would you find it at the drive-through window of a national chain restaurant; her book is definitely not literary fast food. To me, “Jenny’s Way” feels more like a home-cooked stew sitting on the table of a working-class family.
Perkins grew up in a small eastern Connecticut town. The mills that operated in the region from the 1800s to the 1980s fueled the economic and social engines of these communities. Her love for these small mill-towns and their people is evident in this well-crafted novel. Drawing on folklore and legend, the title of Perkin’s book refers to a path that ran along the Shetucket River connecting the mill in Baltic CT to a camp just outside of town. There, Jenny and other camp women “entertained” the mill workers. As with all of the characters in her novel, Perkins neither glamorizes nor minimizes the role of these women; instead, she simply tells their story. This is a major strength of Perkins’ writing style. Through her descriptions of the day-to-day lives of her characters, we get to know each of them as realistic, multi-faceted people, whose depth lies mostly beneath the surface, not as much hidden as undiscovered.
A particularly intriguing aspect of the book to me is that Perkins chooses to tell her story from the first-person account of her main character and narrator: John E. Being a male author who writes from the perspective of my female protagonist, I know the difficulty of “getting into the skin” of the opposite sex and wondered if Perkins could do so realistically and remain consistent throughout the book. To my delight, she does this masterfully. In following John E’s development from a young boy to a grandfather and his relationships to the other people in his life, we experience with him, the beauty, history, and drama of life along the river.
Perkins’ literary stew is savory and well balanced. She serves up interesting characters and appealing settings, simmered in a well developed plot. Then she spices her story with intriguing twists and a few surprises. Those who feast on this literary home cooking should find their appetites satisfied.
Chuck Miceli, Author, Amanda’s Room