A SNUG LIFE SOMEWHERE: Historic Fiction ~Jan Shapin
A SNUG LIFE SOMEWHERE is a first novel by Jan Shapin, an author who has written a number of plays over the years. The writing about an ordinary young woman from Everett, Washington in 1916 is a dense reconstruction of how the Union organizing activities were being experienced across the USA. Penny Jo experiences all the events and yet is truly the narrator of history being made and the underlying back story to the visible outcomes.
Penny Jo Copper (24 yrs. old) is breaking away from the family home in Everett by heading to Seattle and hoping to get a University education like her 19 year old brother, a scholarship winner. Her father has been sent to prison for his rowdy behavior and assault charges. Her mother works in the canning factories and is not much concerned with keeping the family together, just her son’s success. Penny Jo discovers that her brother is organizing and has nearly dropped out of school. She finds a coffee shop job and a shift at the University Laundry, her own little apartment, the University Library and a Biology Class she is invited to audit. Penny Jo is on her way to her life on her own.
Horace, Penny Jo’s brother, is one of the 5 young men killed on the ferry in the Everett Massacre; she must identify the body and then is pulled into representing her family and brother in the parades and funerals of the 5 martyrs as the bereaved sister. In the midst of all this turmoil, she experiences her first love.
The story involves many immigrants and their roles in the Union struggles. A SNUG LIFE SOMEWHERE, then becomes a road show of Penny Jo’s life as a young man named Gabe moves her about the country representing the Everett events. As the USA enters the war, Gabe is avoiding the Draft and takes her to Mexico where they connect with a Russian, an heiress, a man from India, and 2 young men who are maybe journalists. She makes a wonderful friend while in Mexico, the young servant girl Rosa. The Russian is enlisting their help in smuggling jewels and Faberge Eggs to fund the war overseas. Illegal entry back to the USA and we are bound by train rides to Chicago and Milwaukee, Washington DC and Baltimore. Gabe is creating a new identity and Penny Jo is earning the money for food and rooms.
“There men like that, carrying a word they call good, who, once established, choke out the good in others.”
Trains are extremely important in this story and they create a boundary for Penny Jo’s life. She meets a stranger on the train who gives her guidance for her future and a chicken dinner. She sees that her father has been killed in Spokane, Washington from the headlines of a newspaper being shouted by a newsy on a station platform; she must stop running and take care of family business.
A SNUG LIFE SOMEWHERE is a good way to learn history and find the depth and pulse. Although I have studied these events through history classes, I was not aware of the details; the minister and his daughter’s role in the story was omitted from my history lessons at school. The power of the immigrant population is explored; everyone comes to take control in this State and the independent win. What an instructional read and what an interesting history lesson – A SNUG LIFE SOMEWHERE