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Home » Book Review » The Engineer’s Wife–P.T. Barnum’s inclusion disappoints

The Engineer’s Wife–P.T. Barnum’s inclusion disappoints

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The Engineer’s Wife

by Tracey Enerson Wood

Historical fiction is a difficult genre for both writer and reviewer. The writer has to juggle how much history should be included with the amount of  fictitious information needed to establish the setting and especially to flesh out the characters. The reviewer then must judge the book based less on plot, which is to some degree predetermined, than on the author’s ability to combine history and fiction into a package that is both believable and pleasing.

In many ways I appreciated Tracey Enerson Wood’s The Engineer’s Wife. The subject is interesting. Emily Warren Roebling, a woman restricted by the social conventions governing the women of the mid to late nineteenth century, marries a Union officer. After he resigns his commission, he dedicates his life to his father’s project, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a controversial project that proves dangerous to many,  including her husband Wash who is an engineer. Rather than choosing to devote herself to the project after Wash is injured, Emily is subtly and progressively sucked into supervising the construction to completion.

The author has a wonderful way with words, and her research into the engineering aspects of the bridge is thorough. My only complaint of this work of historical fiction is the inclusion of Emily’s extended friendship and romance with the famous P.T. Barnum. Given that they lived and worked in the same city, their paths probably did cross, but in her notes at the end of the book the author freely admits that she had no basis for the creation of their relationship. It is such a major part of the story that I felt cheated as a reader. This is a work of fiction with a real setting rather than fictionalized history. Perhaps this work simply lies at the opposite end of a continuum from my preferred reading tastes in this genre.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: Contains two added sections: Reading Group Guide and A Conversation with the Author

Publication:   April 7, 2020—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

Autumn had painted the trees with brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows. Soon, cold, clear nights would rob the forest, leaving the trees to face the winter stark and barren.

Her lips were drawn tight enough to sling the arrows her eyes aimed at us.

The panic I had successfully tamped down returned like a lion for the kill.


  1. Shalini says:

    Hmmm not for me Linda. I would not be able to finish this book. Lovely review. Glad you enjoyed the insight into the engineervs work

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      Definitely not one I would reread.


      • Shalini says:

        Do you reread books?

        Liked by 1 person

      • lghiggins says:

        I have books that I would like to reread and one day may reread, but generally I am too busy reading the new books I just can’t pass up. As a child I reread Wizard of Oz and Little Women several times. As an adult I read A Christmas Carol every few years; I love the sentiment and the beautiful turn of phrase. Right now I feel like I should reread 1984 and a few others of that period and genre. I feel like the threat of Big Brother has returned with all of our “improved” technology!


  2. I’m with Shalini, not one I think I would like either. But another wonderful and honest review. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Somehow this just doesn’t seem believable to me, and then when I read your comment about no basis for her relationship with PT Barnum it underlined that…interesting but not interested!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Carla says:

    I enjoy historical fiction, but expect the history to be accurate. To fictionalize a personal relationship with well known characters needs to have some basis in research to be included. Too bad this one took too much of a liberty. Nice, honest review Linda. I will pass on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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