I don’t think it would be necessarily fair to describe Andrew Joyce’s Molly Lee as historical fiction. Sure enough there are elements of a Wild West historical era that plays out in the backgrounds of the lives that are unfolding as the pages turn, but Molly Lee is more than the aforementioned genre. It’s a fusion of styles and formulas that have resulted in a new kind of hybrid of storytelling: the mash-up spaghetti western.
Joyce’s expertly crafted Molly Lee is almost like a character study in heroism, replete with flaws aplenty. Choosing to have a female protagonist instead of the usual male-dominated one in these types of genres is the first clue that Molly Lee is unlike any other character you’ve ever met before. She’s stubborn and gutsy, dedicated and passionate. It’s funny that these traits are used to describe Molly Lee since they are the usual traits that describes many, many male-centered pieces of literature, but what makes you different is what makes you special.
The story finds Molly Lee on the quest for the man who stole her heart. He just so happens to be Huck Finn, but that is not really that important a fact as the book progresses. He just happens to be a well-known character who also just happens to be the jerk who left Molly Lee one morning, never to return. Upon her mission to find her betrothed, Molly Lee’s life becomes a literal journey towards learning about one’s own destiny. Starting in 1861, we meet Molly Lee as a feisty eighteen year old. The story then follows an older Molly Lee, who at fifty-six, is still as headstrong as ever. Within these two life stages of the titular character, Joyce weaves morals and lessons on life, ranging from the power chance, and the capacity to start life anew despite suffering many, many setbacks.
What I really enjoyed about Molly Lee was Joyce’s ability to flesh out a character that while uncharacteristic of women of that era, he does not make Molly Lee a caricature. She’s not Mae West in the Saloon, having men swoon over her while she fires her pistol to show she can. Her actions are based upon her motivation to be happy and find her lost love. It’s not any more complicated than that.
Enjoyable and accessible, Andrew Joyce’s Molly Lee is a welcome, refreshing take on the fairly staid western genre and breathes new life into a writing style that seems to have been forgotten long ago.