Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mount Vernon Love Story (1969)

Mary Higgins Clark, the famed mystery writer, started out with a different purpose in mind. Her first book titled Aspire to the Heavens was renamed Mount Vernon Love Story in the hopes that it would find an audience but it never did well and the author switched to a more lucrative style of writing. This book, however, is probably Higgins Clark's best. It's a fictionalized account of George Washington's life based on the author's historical research. I found the book interesting but not strong enough to recommend as an educational tool or basis for fact.

I live near George Washington's home Mount Vernon. I have visited the grounds but never the house. I am familiar with many of the names and locations referenced within the book. Sally Fairfax's family is now known to us on a regular basis as Fairfax County, the largest county in northern Virginia. George Washington's Fredericksburg is where people drive or take the train (me included) for a day out and a bit of overpriced antiquing. Braddock (Road) and (Fort) Belvoir are names we might use when giving directions. I am familiar with the locale and to have the area peopled with history and activity is a pleasure to imagine.

The book is also valuable because it gives readers insight into George Washington the man. He is no longer just a Gilbert Stuart painting or an old man with wooden teeth. He is more than an icon cutting down a cherry tree. He is a young man battling his mother and finding his way in the world. He falls in love, learns to dance, decides on a career, and marries when it feels right to do so. He becomes a husband and a stepfather. He is a good friend to his neighbors. While the book provides very little detail about George Washington's career, we do get a sense about how his relationships might have been structured.

I assume Mary Higgins Clark based her account on the many letters and documents George Washington left behind for the public to read. And because Mount Vernon, the charitable organization that maintains the house and grounds, endorses the book and is using it as a 2015 fundraiser incentive to mark the 256th anniversary of George and Martha's wedding, I have to believe the book commits no major error in the telling of the story. Maybe this year, I will make Mount Vernon a destination point. Arrivals are possible by boat leaving from Old Town Alexandria.

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