Friday, March 12, 2021

Review: Undiscovered Country by Kelly O'Connor McNees (audio)

Title: Undiscovered Country: A Novel Inspired by the Lives of Eleanor Roosevelt & Lorena Hickok
Author: Kelly O'Connor McNees
Narrator: Ann Marie Gideon
Published: Audio - April 2020, HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books 
                       Print - March 2018, Pegasus Books 
Length: 7 hours 20 minutes / 336 pages
Source: Audio via library / Print via Publisher

In October 1932, at the tail end of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign, Eleanor Roosevelt took an overnight train from Potsdam to Albany with Lorena “Hick” Hickok, one of the top Associated Press reporters in the country. That train ride marked the beginning of an extraordinary relationship that would last the rest of Hick and Eleanor’s lives.

In Undiscovered Country, Kelly O’Connor McNees adroitly mixes fact and fiction to present an intimate portrait of the love that bloomed between these two women, hidden in plain sight. Using historical records (including the more than three thousand letters the pair exchanged over a span of thirty years), McNees portrays their relationship from their introduction as reporter and subject through their intense first meetings, their burgeoning affair, and the conflicts that arose as journalist Hick’s ethics were hopelessly compromised by her affection for the woman she was supposed to be covering.

A remarkable portrait of Depression-era America (including Hick and Eleanor’s work on the founding of Arthurdale, the federal housing project in West Virginia for homeless ex-miners), Undiscovered Country is thoroughly researched, highly readable, and beautifully subtle—an extraordinary portrayal of one of the greatest unknown love stories in American politics.


My thoughts:  One of the things I love most about reading historical fiction is going down a rabbit hole on a topic that interests me. That is what happened when I read White Houses by Amy Bloom a few years ago. It just so happened that quite a few books had been written about the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok due to the their letters finally being released. Well, I collected the books and am finally getting around to reading some of them.

As in the other book, this one is also told from Hick's point of view. But I feel that this one dives a bit further into Hick's life, giving us a personal story that is both powerful and touching. We clearly see just how different these two women are, coming from such different upbringings, social classes, connections and careers as we begin to learn more about Hick. Their relationship is one that was not acceptable during this time period. But that is not their only obstacle. Hick is also working in a field that is typically a male-oriented one, so she really had a lot of strikes against her, so it's no wonder she drinks.

I could read a ton of books on these women as I find that each author puts their own spin on the relationship and of course there is the delicate balance of fact and fiction mixed into the book. This is my first time reading anything by Kelly O'Connor McNees and I really enjoyed her writing style. It was easy to get into and I really felt she captured the essence of their relationship.

Audio thoughts: When I saw that the audio had been released for this book, I grabbed it and am so glad I did. It was a great listen and I really enjoyed it. I've listened to Ann Marie Gideon before and thought she did a great job with this audio.


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