Women's fight for freedom of choice: Dr. Aa's Pennyroyal Tabules #review

Dr. Aa's Pennyroyal Tabules

Written by Lisa Annelouise Rentz

Genre: Historical

Book Synopsis

‘Dr. Aa’s Pennyroyal Tabules’ is an uneasy story set in the easy-going summertime of Alston Island, on the coast of South Carolina in the 1920s. There, the unnamed narrator and her beautiful college friend Pennington Collins are joined by the three raucous Collins brothers, Dinah a young school teacher, a neighboring prude, a sweet-potato eating dog, and a tall, wise, doomed woman named Romola. Beach house parties are attended, biscuits are eaten, a mourners’ procession is watched, news articles are read aloud, contraception is sought, speculation of cave men’s lives is attempted, and the nature of lust is tested in theory, in practice, and beyond the bureaucratic boundaries of jurisprudence and healthcare systems.

Enter the snake-oily Dr. Aa, blackmailing Dinah in regards to “obstinate obstruction” newly in her “female system,” and her related order for his illegal remedy. The Collins brothers confront Dr. Aa, which leads to a good thrashing of the villain, giving the narrator the opportunity to take a box of letters from the many women he is blackmailing.

The friends understand they need to push back against the crooks and authorities who are proving detrimental to their health, and they write to all the women, despite the fact that the contents of their letters are in violation of Comstock Laws: “Be ware of sham operations which profit from terrorizing women via corrupted laws,” they advise.

As a result, the postmaster from Savannah arrives at their house, and the friends decide to leave early for their trip to New York City, to attend the first American birth control conference— Pennington’s essay “Why I Shall Have It” already having been chosen for presentation during the conference organized by Margaret Sanger. The exploring they do in the big city, and the tragedy they endure at the end of the book, is a hopeful launching point to the rest of their lives.

The novella features a prologue and a five-part epilogue, revealing five different points of view, from the 1920s to 2031. Newspaper articles, letters, and quotes give the first person narrative a multimedia aspect.

This carefully researched and creative story explores the common and eternal dilemnas of kissing, childbearing, and the amazing circumstances that arise from love and consequences and more love.

Mark Lee's Rating

Mark Lee's Review

Although set in the past, it doesn't read like historical fiction. There are a number of references to the time period and the years leading up to it, but what's missing is consistency—in fact, many scenes could take place in a contemporary setting and none would be the wiser. For instance, almost none of the dialog reminds me of period language or even the illusion of such. In general, the characterization doesn't fit the time period as well as it could.

A book needs to make sense, especially if it's trying to fall in some historical setting. The idea at the core of this piece is very serious, and some aspects of the plot reflect this. However, some of the story at the beginning either doesn't make sense or makes me wonder how it fits in. For instance, there's a house fire that completely destroys the emotional impact of the moments before it. The house fire itself doesn't help the main plot as far as I could tell. It seems like it was thrown in for theatrics.

The truly thought provoking aspects don't find their full footing until more than half way through. If you can get through some nonsensical scenes, a treat awaits you, and I found the multiple epilogue ending (which stretched into our future) a unique way of concluding the book.

I recommend this if you are interested in women's fight for freedom of choice, for there is something to be gleamed from this book in comparison to today's controversy over abortion. I'm not for abortion but am OK with birth control (in most forms), so I found the commentary in the novel thought provoking. (BTW, I may not be for abortion, but I do recognize the right of personal choice and wouldn't stop anyone from choosing.)

Review Disclaimer: The book was provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.