Books

‘The Silver Baron’s Wife’: From Rags to Riches to an Immensely Readable Novel

As an inspirational story about an unconventional woman, The Silver Baron’s Wife definitely satisfies. But, it also offers an inside look at the over-the-top opulence of a bygone era. As the government debated whether to base U.S. currency on gold or silver, Tabor’s mines continued to produce at record levels. At one point, Lizzie’s second husband was among the wealthiest people in the country. He celebrated with generous civic donations and lavish parties, and he showered his bride and their two small daughters with extravagant gifts, all of which are described by Baier Stein in delicious detail.

Other parts of the novel are as meticulous in their descriptions of the mining practices of the nineteenth century. These passages reminded me of Ron Rash’s engrossing 2008 novel Serena (which became a mediocre 2015 movie) about the logging industry. Mining isn’t a subject I’m particularly interested in, but in Baier Stein’s hands it becomes almost as fascinating as ballgowns, slippers, ermine cloaks and a midnight conversation with one of the age’s superstars, Sarah Bernhardt.

Finally, and this may be one of the reasons Baier Stein felt so compelled to tell this story, the novel examines the intersection of formal religion (Lizzie’s family were staunch Catholics) and individual spirituality. Through all her life’s reversals, Lizzie strives to find and feel God. She searches for greater truths and that quest somehow sustains her even as she loses everything, including the people she loves.

The Silver Baron’s Wife is a neat, quick read; I got through most of it in a single two-hour flight. Yet it delivers on multiple levels: as (albeit embellished) biography, as historical fiction, as a primer on nineteenth century industry and government, and at last as a personal exploration of faith. There’s a richness to it (beyond the Tabors’ years of conspicuous consumption) that rewards the reader.

Baier Stein’s next project is a collection of short stories, set in the 1930s and 40s and based on the lithographs of Thomas Hart Benton. Until then, you can find The Silver Baron’s Wife at amazon.com (LINK: https://www.amazon.com/?&tag=womsvoiforc04-20&camp=15345&creative=331665&linkCode=ur1&adid=0VNZX2QCN9XW99PBHP72&) (and help fund WVFC’s non-profit mission by doing so).

 

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