Seventeen-year-old Abigail Milton arrives in Charleston, South Carolina, from England in 1845. Her father has sent her for a year to stay with his close friend Douglas Elling. The Milton family had hit something of a financial disaster; Mounting debts from losses during a flood had forced them from comfortable middle class to poverty. Abby had been working at a mill and as a servant to her uncle, while fending off the uncle’s lecherous advances.
She’s determined never to marry; she intends to become a teacher. And what she first sees of 26-year-old Douglas Elling confirms her resolution. He’s remote, rude, and distracted; he dresses without care and his beard makes him look disheveled. Three years before, he lost his wife and young daughter to a fire – a fire deliberately set because people of Elling’s class are not supposed to hold abolitionist views and, it’s rumored, help fugitive slaves escape.
Abby and Douglas seem content with staying out of each other’s way. She’s assigned a governess to give her lessons and teach her how to act in Charleston society. Douglas has little to do with her until he accidentally spooks a horse who rears and almost tramples Abby. And everything begins to change.
Trouble the Water by Jacqueline Friedland is the story of Abby and Douglas, and how two people overcome past tragedy and brokenness as they reach toward each other. It’s also the story of slavery, abolition, the Underground Railroad, and the risks people would take to help slaves reach freedom.
Friedland received a B.A. degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from New York University Law School, graduating Magna Cum Laude at both schools. She also received a M.F.A. degree from Sarah Lawrence College. She worked as an attorney for New York law firms and switched to teaching legal skills and writing at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York City. She lives with her family in New York. This is her first novel.
Trouble the Water pulls you fully into the story of Abby and Douglas. Friedland has done her research; she’s captured the sense of Charleston and the slavery system on which the South was constructed extremely well. The novel is a historical romance, but it is also about overcoming the past and listening to one’s conscience.