I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
I spotted this title on Net Galley and the first thing that caught my eye was the beautiful cover illustration. I was familiar with the building of the Brooklyn bridge from long-ago school lessons on the Burroughs of New York City and from the discovery of the illness known then as “the bends,” which came about from the building of the bridge. I’d enjoyed the American Experience documentary on the building of the bridge as well. Finally, while in isolation I’ve been re-watching Ken Burn’s great Civil War documentary and was surprised to realize (after reading the blurb on this book) that Washington Roebling was one of the soldiers quoted in that series. I did not, however, know anything about Roebling’s wife.
During the Civil War, Emily Warren meets a young officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, Washington Roebling. They fall in love and marry. Emily, the brother of a General, has been involved in the very young struggle for women’s suffrage and hopes to return to that work after the war and after her marriage. “Wash” comes from a very traditional German-American family, but is himself taken with more modern ideas about somethings, while also working constantly with his very traditional father. When Emily starts her married life by pointing out an improvement in the Cincinnati-Covington bridge the two men are building, her father-in-law isn’t pleased, but her husband is fine with it.
When the long-awaited chance to build the bridge connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan finally arrives, Emily is asked to deny her own hopes and dreams and work to win approval (and financing) for the project.
Later she becomes the “Edith Boling Wilson” of the engineering world, helping bring her husband’s vision to reality and does a fine job of it, too.
I wanted to like Emily–she was independent, intelligent, and articulate. But I didn’t. She cared little about her father-in-law’s views and often put her husband in a very bad situation with his father who was also his employer. She struck me as very full of herself.
I did, however, like P.T. Barnum being included in the story as a foil for Emily–he appealed to the “free spirit” within in her, but also forced her to see herself in her own time and place.
As the story progressed, thankfully, Emily grew up to be the best sort of “helpmeet” a man can have. She took a very genuine interest in his work and educated herself as much as possible in the ins and outs of engineering to better help and support her husband. I still wasnt crazy about her. I did not feel Wash was a real person–very cardboard, which was too bad.
The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Emerson Wood is available tomorrow, April 7th.