By Heidi Simmons
“Girl Waits With Gun”
by Amy Stewart
Everyone hates a bully, but standing up to them isn’t easy. The problem is, the more you ignore a bully the more the bully taunts. If you confront the bully, the bullying often gets worse. In Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 416 pages), three sisters refuse to be victimized.
The story, set in 1914 New Jersey, is about the prim and proper Kopp sisters, Constance, Norma and Fleurette. They are on their way to the city in their horse drawn buggy when a speeding automobile T-bones them. Although their buggy is totaled, they and their horse, Dolley, are not majorly injured – only bruised and banged up.
Constance, the eldest of the sisters and a large woman, is so annoyed and filled with adrenaline, she confronts the driver demanding his name and place of employment. He is Henry Kaufman, a silk-man and wealthy industrialist. When Kaufman and his band of hoodlums hassle Constance, she manhandles him until he gives up his information.
The sisters live on a farm and their family money is running out, so Constance sends a letter asking $50 compensation for their buggy. With no reply, Constance goes to Mr. Kaufman’s business to submit her request.
Once again, Kaufman and his gang tease, mock and threaten Constance. After they deny her claim, they threaten to kidnap the young and beautiful Fleurette to sell her into slavery. Constance grabs Kaufman by the lapels and slams him against the wall. Instantly Constance realizes her mistake. His humiliation in front of his men has just created an even bigger war between them.
On her way out of the silk factory, Lucy, a young woman working at the factory, thinks Constance may be in the same situation with Kaufman as she is. Lucy had his baby.
Lucy reluctantly tells Constance that during the silk strikes, her baby was taken away, but never returned. Now, Constance sees a bigger problem with Kaufman. And now Kaufman has seen the two women talking.
Soon the three sisters are threatened. Rocks come through their windows at night with messages that Kaufman and his “friends” plan on taking Fleurette, plan to burn down their house and murder the sisters. And then, Lucy goes missing.
Constance goes to the Sheriff, but there is little he can do. The sisters refuse to relocate from their farm and won’t be bullied. The Sheriff sees an opportunity to finally get Kaufman and his gang if he can get evidence. Constance and the Sheriff team up to capture Kaufman and bring charges against him. He teaches the sisters to use pistols. Meanwhile, Constance becomes her own detective and tries to find out what happened to Lucy and her baby.
With courage and perseverance, Constance and her sisters get their day in court and Kaufman finally meets his match.
Constance tells the story in her first-person voice. She is – without being aware of it — a modern woman working hard to be heard and seen. She refuses to be literally or figuratively run over because of her gender. If she and her sisters are to survive, she must take risks.
This book is a work of historical fiction. Author Stewart based Girl Waits With Gun on the real Kopp sisters and their quest for justice with Kaufman. The book’s title is the actual headline from the paper when Constance went to meet the “Black Handers.” Stewart uses clippings in the book and the actual threats that were sent to the sisters.
Besides the danger they face and the mystery around the missing baby, the novel relates the changing times in America. The colorful setting of the story shows that new laws and human rights were required for the industrial age to safely move forward.
The sisters were born at home and have no birth records. Their mother raised them to fear and stay away from strangers. But isolation was becoming less desirable to women who wanted more from life.
Constance’s back-story is carefully revealed and we understand her determination to make a difference in the lives of her sisters and Lucy. She welcomes community and discovers it is better to help others than ignore them.
The Kopp sisters are witty, smart and fearless. They are eccentrics, capable and full of charm. I hope Stewart continues with these women. This is a series I’d follow on the page or PBS. It’s always fun to see the bully finally get what’s coming to him especially when it’s by the most vulnerable and unlikely of characters.