When a Man is a Woman

The Whip by Karen Kondazian is a work of historical fiction with a heavy slant on the historical part. Charley and Charlotte Parkhurst are one and the same despite outward appearances signaling a gender difference. Charlotte recognized from childhood that there were two worlds; one for men, one for women. Men seemed to inhabit a world with considerably more freedom, bound only by the choices they made and the consequences that followed. In Charlotte’s opinion, a woman’s world was one of only consequences that followed choices usually made by men. This story takes place between 1815 and 1880. Of course, today the world has no such inequality. Charlotte’s choice to proceed in life as a man was a result of horrible events that happened to her and a desire for revenge toward the man that had brutalized her and her family. On her journey to achieve revenge, Charley’s choice was to live as a man while she worked as a “Whip,” the person who drove a stagecoach, expertly guiding and instructing the teams of horses so they worked in unison. Charley didn’t use the whip to beat or punish horses; she (he) used it to defend the horses from snakes and wild animals as she touched the horses lightly in combination with pulls on the reins to indicate desired travel directions.

Charlotte started life as an orphan and early in life developed a sense of independence not appreciated by the orphan’s headmistress. As she developed into a teenager, the headmistress banished her from orphan dormitories to a barn where she lived under the care of the orphanage’s horse trainer, Jonas. This is probably where she got her last name, Parkhurst, the name of the trainer she developed an almost a daughter-father relationship with as her love of horses grew. After a few years, Charlotte left Jonas Parkhurst and the orphanage. She lived on her own doing a series of low-level jobs such as housekeeper and caregiver to elderly clients. Her story picks up again at age thirty-five when she makes a very dangerous lifestyle choice as the white wife of a black man. Surviving childbirth comparatively late in life for the time, Charlotte lived with husband, Byron, and daughter near Providence, Rhode Island but as far away as possible from civilization to avoid the attacks Byron feared.

The attacks came. Byron and daughter were killed, Charlotte and Byron had not had time to give the daughter a name. Charlotte knew who killed her husband and daughter. Lee Colton, a man Charlotte had known from her youngest days in the orphanage, was one member of a gang which had lynched her husband and son. When she arrived at the scene of the lynching with husband and daughter already dead, Lee had attacked and raped Charlotte. After an indeterminate number of days for grief and recovery, Charlotte searched for Lee to exact revenge. She found only rumors that Lee had gone to California. She also found an advertisement seeking stagecoach drivers. Knowing that this was a job for men only but also knowing her skill with horses was far superior to most men, Charlotte decided to become Charley.

Charley got the job. This is the point where Book One Ends. Book Two, the new life of Charley Parkhurst begins. Lee will remain as a motivating force for Charley and his plans for revenge but there are many more interesting parts to the story before we will hear again of Lee. Fun facts follow.

Readers will learn about the lives of actors/actresses and prostitutes through the character of Anna, later be a life partner of Charley/Charlotte.

There are rules for riding stagecoaches, only a few are mentioned here:

“WELLS FARGO RULES FOR RIDING THE STAGECOACH

  1. If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the Gentle Sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted but spit with the wind, not against it.
  2. Forbidden topics of discussion are stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings. Also, don’t discuss politics or religion, nor point out places on the road where horrible murders have been committed.
  3. Expect annoyance, discomfort and some hardships. If you are disappointed, thank heaven.” (pg. 181-182)

Here is a quote that deserves further investigation as you read.

“there’s even a group of concerned citizens called the Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive.” (p. 214).

And, a final quote about an employment offer. When this appeared, Charley was already too old to follow up.

“The Pony Express advertised for young riders but stated that only orphans need apply.” (p. 268).

This novel is based on interviews with journalist Timothy Byrne and backed up by various newspaper reports from the time plus academic works listed in the bibliography, works that span time from 1869 to 1998. I first wrote about this novel in December 2017 when I reviewed the sample from Amazon. It cost too much (USD 4.61) and had no option for reading with Kindle Unlimited. I put the book in one of my wish lists. They are growing to rival in size my TBR list. It is still not available on KU but at USD 1.99 I remembered enough from my reading of the sample that I decided it was time to buy.

An entertaining read outside this novel is the Amazon Author page for Karen Kondazian. Read it and prepare to be dazzled. This is one of the more worthwhile novels I have read in a long time. Notice the absence of spoilers. Did anyone know of Charlotte’s dual identity while she was alive? Readers will be surprised. Once Charlotte determined to become Charley, did she ever go back?

And whatever happened to Lee? Did Charley/Charlotte get his/her revenge? There are several historically based answers to these questions. Karen Kondazian is masterful in her portrayal of what probably were some of the internal thoughts of Charley. I gave this novel five stars and highly recommend it. Without taking away from or criticizing the author, I believe the reading level is grade eight. It is a very well told story to be done in such a reader-friendly style. I recommend this for English as a Second Language users.

3 comments

  1. Wow. Amazing review. This sounds like a really heart-breaking read. I can’t help but feel sorry for Charley, that’s a whole lot to go through. It seems like Book Two will be a lot like Kill Bill Volume 1. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the feedback. There is reference several times in the novel that there have been several (“many” might be too much) similar cases. I am trying to track down a story of a civil war soldier who disguised herself as a man so she could serve alongside her boyfriend in combat. So much to read.

      1. I suppose there must have been quite a few instances. It really shows you how far we have come that women now longer need to imitate/become a man to do “masculine jobs.” Do let me know about the civil war soldier, that sounds very intriguing.

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