Two families, opposing purposes, and common ground grace the plot of Elly Hays by Lori Crane. However, in the best tradition of star-crossed purposes, much tragedy occurs before the discovery of universal emotion between two factions.
Ms. Crane takes the reader on a journey back to 1812-1818 in what the U.S. government dubbed the Mississippi Territory, but the Creek Indians deemed theirs. The setting of the novel is in present-day Alabama. I was transported into the lives of the Muscogee Creek village, with the warrior Tavf Hokkolen at the center of the story’s conflict. I understood both Tavf’s grief and the tribe’s resentment and hatred of the white men who they saw as stealing land, felling trees, and desecrating their sacred ground.
Their story parallels and collides with the Rodgers family who’ve come to the territory for land they received from the U.S. government. Their fear of the “savage” Creeks seems justified, and their story is filled with tension as they make every effort to stay on despite the continuing harassment from the Creeks.
Crane’s creative descriptions and plot movement never takes sides and allows the reader to see the conflicts from all angles. Both sides are villains; both sides are heroes.
The juxtaposition of the parallel, yet opposite, lives gives Elly Hays a unique perspective. I love that Crane took the life of one her ancestors–Elly Hays Rodgers–and imagined what life must have been for Elly, her husband, and their eleven children when they moved onto a beautiful piece of land right in the middle of what the Creek’s declared as theirs, but what the U.S. government determined as belonging to the new country. To the Creeks, the Rodgers’ family is just one more white family invading their land. To the Rodgers, the Creeks are the ones acting improperly.
Whenever I read good historical fiction, I realize that our struggles today are nothing compared to those who went before us. That’s what Elly Hays is—good historical fiction that allows me to appreciate the present while sending bouquets of admiration to women such as Elly.
I thank Lori Crane for bringing her to light and showing us once more that perhaps our similarities are much larger than any differences we might have with our fellow humans on this Earth.