There is a contradiction underpinning the whole project of English imperialism, and Nesbit flags it perfectly. On the one hand, the English pilgrims regard themselves as epitomizing civility, manners and thus superiority. On the other hand, they deploy barbaric cruelty in order to defend that superiority. For all the novel's quietness of telling, its currency is the human capacity for cruelty and subjugation, of pretty much everyone by pretty much everyone…[
Beheld] is most successful where it allows itself to stray from historical fact and plotto invent and to play with language, to give itself imaginative time and space. Nesbit is brilliant in those moments, and captures a paradox of historical writingthat it's in the invention and improvisation that the past feels most pressing and most real.
The New York Times Book Review - Samantha Harvey
Nesbit (The Wives of Los Alamos) cleverly recasts pilgrim history in this deeply enjoyable novel of murder in Plymouth Colony, Mass. To those living in Plymouth in 1630, the colony is not the land of freedom they’d envisioned. The Puritans hold an iron grip on religious observations, alienating the Anglicans among them, while the colonists haven’t received the benefits promised to them, such as land. John and Eleanor Billington, former indentured servants, distinguish themselves as rebels in the colony, never hesitating to point out inequities and hypocrisy, particularly those of prominent settlers William and Alice Bradford and the storied Myles Standish. After the arrival of John Newcomen, a new settler who’s been promised land belonging to the Billingtons, more than one person ends up dead. Capturing the alternating voices of the haves (the Bradfords, Newcomen) and the have-nots (the Billingtons), Nesbit’s lush prose adds texture to stories of the colony’s women, and her deep immersion in primary sources adds complexity to the historical record. Fans of Miriam Toews’s Women Talking will eagerly devour this gripping historical.
Agent: Julie Barer, The Book Group. (Mar.) Due to a production error, this review originally published without a star.
"In this plain-spoken and lovingly detailed historical novel, the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony is refracted through the prism of female characters. Despite the novel’s quietness of telling, its currency is the human capacity for cruelty and subjugation, of pretty much everyone by pretty much everyone." -
New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice "I have been waiting for this book. But I’m not alone. There has been a sort of impatience and delicious anticipation felt by those waiting to be inside TaraShea Nesbit’s much talked about Beheld." - Sarah Jessica Parker, via Instagram "A compelling exploration of friendship, character and the personal and political motivations that determine whose stories get told and whose voices are silenced." - Los Angeles Times, Books to Read to Study the Divided Nation "A compelling new novel by TaraShea Nesbit, author of The Wives of Los Alamos, explores not only the dangers the first colonists confronted on arrival, but those they brought with them … Beheld disrupts expectation to render the pulsing messy lives of those too often calcified in myth." - USA Today "There is a contradiction underpinning the whole project of English imperialism, and Nesbit flags it perfectly . . . The novel is most successful where it allows itself to stray from historical fact and plotto invent and to play with language, to give itself imaginative time and space. Nesbit is brilliant in those moments, and captures a paradox of historical writingthat it’s in the invention and improvisation that the past feels most pressing and most real." - New York Times "In a gripping retelling of the Plymouth colony’s first murder, we finally hear the voices of womenand they speak an unvarnished truth that turns history on its pointy-hatted head. Truly a riveting read." - Helen Simonson, author of MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND and THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR "TaraShea Nesbit's puritans are passionate and vengeful and entrancing. Part mystery, part love story, beautifully told and meticulously researched, Beheld reanimates and complicates the mythologies of America's earliest settlers. I was sad when it ended." - Anton DiSclafani, author of THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS " Beheld breathes fresh life into a world grown still and murky beneath the scrim of legendrife with intrigue, fractured by difference, marked by violence, and full of haunting images. With gorgeous, period-inflected prose, Nesbit takes us back to the earliest days of New England to look through the eyes and over the shoulders of historical characters both remembered and not. I read it at a gallop. What a marvel this novel is." - Laird Hunt, author of IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS "I read TaraShea Nesbit's Beheld months ago, and it's one of those novels that has stayed with mein the best way." - Tina Jordan, New York Times Book Review Deputy Editor via Twitter "A richly complex and sorrowful work with a particular interest in the role of women in the colony. . . . In this powerful work, Nesbit renders the past without muting its gravity." - Minneapolis Star-Tribune "Nesbit . . . cleverly recasts pilgrim history in this deeply enjoyable novel . . . Capturing the alternating voices of the haves (the Bradfords, Newcomen) and the have-nots (the Billingtons), Nesbit’s lush prose adds texture to stories of the colony’s women, and her deep immersion in primary sources adds complexity to the historical record." - Publishers Weekly, starred review "In this vein, Nesbit joins other writers of colonial life, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne himself, to show how easily hypocrisy and the Puritan faith merged in society. Eleanor has her own scarlet letter because of her marriage, her social status, and her outspoken bravery." - Washington Independent Review of Books ". . . the novel is a gripping read propelled by vibrant characterization, and an engrossing take on the Plymouth colony and America’s first murder." - Historical Novel Society " Beheld is a thrilling, class-conscious take on the narrative of Plymouth that introduces marginalized voices whose stories are rarely told." - BookBrowse, four stars out of five "Restoring women’s voices, primarily through Alice and Eleanor, adds a new and welcome dimension to our history, made more vivid by solid research and clear, concise prose. In Nesbit’s hands, history once again comes alive." - Booklist "Nesbit brilliantly captures the wrath between the classes and the irony of coming to a country in pursuit of religious freedom only to have the sanctimonious Puritans circumscribe the rights of the Anglicans." - Publishers Weekly "Nesbit's novel has all the juicy sex, lies, and violence of a prestige Netflix drama and shines surprising light on the earliest years of America, massive warts and all. A dramatic look at the Pilgrims as seen through women's eyes." - Kirkus Reviews "Nesbit tells this story of conflict and contradiction in alternating chapters from both the empowered and the powerless. The voices of the women are especially strong, particularly Elizabeth, whose friendships and reminiscences of the colony’s earlier days offer insight about the women of the plantation … Land ownership, religious observation and differing accounts of events all play their part in this clever, insightful novel that digs deeply into our country’s conflicted origins." - BookPage "Nesbit’s empathy is as evident and important here as her commitment to accuracy . . . Reading historical fiction with a balanced combination of accuracy and emotion can approach reading a letter or a diary from the time. Such fiction can also offer intentional, carefully crafted drama and, in Nesbit’s case, beautiful prose. Beheld will engage readers who seek out historical fiction, and others who enjoy voice-driven psychological drama." - Fiction Writers Review "Nesbit does a wonderful job of showing how a mind can be skewed to a certain train of thought." - Bowling Green Daily News "This is one of those gaspy tales that can hold you enthralled until it's time to shock you good, and if you need something different, find it. Indeed, Beheld is a book you must have." - The Bookworm ". . . get ready for what the ladies of Plymouth have to say." - Paperback Paris "The author’s nuanced and careful attention to the inner lives of women and underdogs is notable. It represents one of the best impulses in contemporary historical fiction." - The Christian Century "I can say that Beheld is one of the best novels I’ve read in 2021. Not only is it faithful historical fiction, with a feminine twist, but it’s timely, too... Beheld is a cautionary tale of religious zealotry that today’s readers well might heed." - Ann Ronald, BookinWithSunny
This revisionist history-based story of the voyage of the
Mayflower and the first ten years of Plymouth Colony is told mainly by three women—Dorothy Bradford, the first wife of William Bradford, Alice Bradford, the second wife of by-then governor Bradford (a post he held for some 30 years, more akin to king than anything else), and Eleanor Billington, the wife of the biggest "troublemaker" in the colony, John Billington. Readers of William Bradford's accepted history, Of Plymouth Plantation, will find here described a considerably less cohesive and righteous place. From the early pages, we hear much of all the common squabbles of people living in close proximity during very hard times, but most intriguingly an increasing foreshadowing of a murder to come, over a land dispute between Billington and a newly arrived settler. VERDICT Readers who enjoy historical fiction, told with fine literary style, will be delighted. Nesbit ( The Wives of Los Alamos) undertook considerable historical documentary research to get the details right, and the results should also appeal to anyone with an interest in colonial history. [See Prepub Alert, 9/16/19.] —Vicki Gregory, Sch. of Information, Univ. of South Florida, Tampa
Ten years after founding the first Pilgrim settlement, the colonists are forced to address the strife that roils beneath their utopian dreams.
It's an August morning in the Plymouth colony, the year 1630. It's been 10 years since a group arrived on the
Mayflower to start life afresh, and today is a day of great anticipation: A fresh wave of people is expected to arrive. Alice Bradford, wife of the colony's governor, William, is especially anxious. On this new ship will be her stepson, the child left behind by William and his first wife, Dorothy, when they undertook the perilous Mayflower journey. Alice remains haunted by Dorothy's death, which occurred under mysterious circumstances, and feels guilt for having usurped her childhood companion for the powerful role of William Bradford's wife. But the day is full of anticipation in other ways, too. Nesbit ( The Wives of Los Alamos, 2014) uses alternating narrators, chiefly Alice Bradford and Eleanor Billington, the wife of a disgruntled, disillusioned colonist, to show the tension and unrest building among those in charge of the fledgling settlement and those who are chafing against the powerful. A murder will be committed by the time this August day has come to a close, and by the time it does, the settlers will question whether or not they are truly "fashioned in God's favor," as they once believed. Although the pacing here can be off-putting (the buildup to the promised disaster is long; the climax, too short) and the sensitively rendered but still peripheral role that the Wampanoag Tribe plays could have used more development, Nesbit's novel has all the juicy sex, lies, and violence of a prestige Netflix drama and shines surprising light on the earliest years of America, massive warts and all.
A dramatic look at the Pilgrims as seen through women's eyes.