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ARC Review: The Divorce Colony

The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier by April White April White’s The Divorce Colony is set during the Gilded Age, in the America of the late 1800s. It revolves around the lax divorce rules then to be found in South Dakota.  Today, getting divorced is almost easier than getting married. But in the Gilded Age, divorces were not so easy to obtain. Divorce was viewed as a moral concern for the state, and was denounced from the pulpit for threatening the sanctity of marriage. Even President Theodore Roosevelt spoke out against it.  Laws around divorce tended to be most lax on the frontiers of the United States. By the 1880s the territory of Dakota gained the dubious honor of posting the largest rise in divorces in the country. At the turn of the century one city - Sioux Falls, South Dakota - gained a reputation for having the laxest divorce laws of all, and required only a three month residency in order to take advantage of them

Book Review: Murder at Teal's Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks

Murder at Teal's Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks by David Bushman & Mark T. Givens

In 1908 the body of the young, blonde, and beautiful Hazel Drew was found floating face down in Teal’s Pond in Sand Lake, New York. In 1990 the television drama Twin Peaks debuted with the discovery of the body of the young, blond and beautiful Laura Palmer, dead by the side of a river. 

The authors of Murder at Teal’s Pond are huge fans of Twin Peaks. Bushman is a curator at the Paley Center for Media and a former editor of Variety who has written books on Twin Peaks. Givens is host of the podcast Deer Meadow Radio, which has Twin Peaks as its focus.

So, what’s the connection between the TV show and the murder at the heart of their book? It comes from Mark Frost, David Lynch’s co-creator on Twin Peaks. His maternal grandparents owned a farmhouse in Sand Lake, and his grandmother used to tell him ghost stories about the murdered girl whose body was discovered in the pond. 

When Bushman heard Frost tell the story of Hazel Drew in an interview, he contacted Frost for his blessing on a book project about Drew. Frost readily agreed, and wrote the foreword to the book.

The two authors spent five years researching the story of Hazel’s murder and have produced a book that is a rewardingly deep dive into the 1908 communities of Sand Lake and Troy, New York. But the true crime story at the heart of the book is frustrating. Hazel Drew’s murder was never solved. The authors provide possible reasons why, and speculate as to who the actual murderers may have been. But over 100 years after the fact they can’t do much more than that.

I enjoyed reading this book primarily because of my interest in history. The pictures the authors paint of life in 1908 have great detail, and there are a number of photos that help you to put yourself back into that time period. It’s clear that a lot of research went into the book. If you are a history buff you’ll enjoy this book.

A drawback though is the limited scope of the story. Confined to the greater Albany area of New York, it may not appeal to a wide range of history fans.

As for everyone else? Well, true crime fans will find the history perhaps a little TOO detailed for their liking. The inconclusiveness of the real life mystery will frustrate many. From a historical perspective I appreciated that the authors didn’t try to slant the book toward their conclusion too soon. But I suspect true crime fans will hate that, and it doesn’t make for a compelling arc to the murder mystery.

In his Foreword, Frost talks about “the pervasive threat of sexual violence that women face on an everyday basis” as being the thread that ties Laura Palmer and Hazel Drew. If the authors could have found a way to put that theme more front and center in the book, it would have been a much better read.

Murder at Teal’s Pond is a Two Star ⭐⭐ read for me. I enjoyed the history in the book, but ultimately was disappointed at the inconclusiveness of the main story.

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Title: Murder at Teal's Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks
Authors: David Bushman & Mark T. Givens
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (Amazon Publishing)
Publish Date: January 1, 2022
ISBN-13: 9781542026420
Publisher’s List Price: $11.99 (Paperback as of 03/2022)