TW: Mentions of racism, poverty, and grief
My rating: 5 Books out of 5
She’d received the desk after Mrs. Hamilton realized that Mercy could be of assistance with her interviews with, oh, just about anyone who’d ever crossed paths with Alexander Hamilton. Those damned, never- ending interviews that the widow threw so much energy into— both her own and that of everyone in her vicinity. That’s what the desk was for: the work of preserving a legacy, and not even Mrs. Hamilton’s own.
Alyssa Cole is quickly becoming one of my auto-buy writers. I thoroughly enjoyed A Princess In Theory, the first in her Reluctant Royals series (the rest of which, fear not, I will review) and when I saw that she had written a f/f novella – inspired by Hamilton, no less – I bought it instantly. As a fan of both lesbians and historical romance, I am always on the hunt for books that combine the two. That Could Be Enough follows Eliza Hamilton’s maid, Mercy, as she helps Mrs Hamilton record the events of her late husband’s life – and in doing so, encounters Miss Andromeda Stiel. Mercy has closed herself off and brushed aside thoughts of love or a life outside the Grange where she lives and works. Women like Mercy do not get happiness, there is no way for her to live openly and happily, and her heart has been broken too many times for her to consider any alternative to solitude.
Andromeda had once found a tomcat in the family stable while mucking. She’d knelt down and held out her hand, waiting. The cat had hissed, glared at her, yowled in warning. Eventually, it had decided she was safe to approach, and its deep purr had vibrated through her hand as it rubbed itself against her, desperate for affection. Mercy seemed ready to hiss if Andromeda continued her line of questioning, but Mercy had also leaned into Andromeda’s touch during that first meeting, before she’d remembered herself.
Both Mercy and Andromeda are women of colour fighting to build lives in a world that closes many doors to them on account of this. Now, I am a white woman writing book reviews, so there’s probably not anything of note for me to add to the general discourse of racism – especially racism, historically, in America where I do not live and have never been. My knowledge of this period in American history is limited solely to Hamilton itself, and until the musical came out I had no idea who he was, so I’m not the most qualified person to offer comment on the historical accuracy of this novella. However, I loved the sense of community that Cole created, the representation of people of colour in American history as so much more than slaves. Here we see business owners, actors, seamstresses, printers and more – educated, capable people. One exchange in particular, I highlighted because of both how it highlights the divide that people of colour faced in everyday life, but also because of how it made me feel as a white woman looking in.
“I don’t understand, Mr. Porter. You know as well as I do that my current business is one of the anchors of the neighborhood. I provide work for young women, give back to the community, and I’m seen as a knowledgeable businessperson. I know everyone in a mile radius, and what’s more, they know me and they like me— or at the very least they respect me. I doubt anyone else wanting to buy can say the same.”
“No one else wanting to buy is an unmarried Negress,” he said, his tone suggesting he’d listed not one but two faults in her character.
“Oh, how sad for them,” she said, tilting her head to the side.
That made me uncomfortable and I am not the person he’s talking to or about. Andromeda, because she is wonderful, rebuffs his comments and succeeds despite his attempts to keep her from doing so, but this scene drives home that no matter how capable, likeable and brave Andromeda is, she will always be seen as lesser by some because of who she is.
Beautiful. My heart… There was an angel standing at the end of the hallway. Mercy was an irredeemable sinner, she’d been told, but she wasn’t mistaken about the divine being before her. Buttery rays of morning sun fought for the opportunity to dapple and highlight the woman at the end of the hall.
Mercy and Andromeda’s love story genuinely moved me. While I am unable to identify with the experience of racism throughout history, that of homophobia is one I can understand. Mercy’s life has convinced her that there is no future for her and another woman – a fact her heart conveniently forgets whenever she sees Andromeda. To see these two women overcome their own challenges and fight in a world that is so against them to be happy together was wonderful, and Cole has such a wonderful ability to make you feel so much for her characters. This novella was beautifully written, and for a relatively short story it packed an emotional punch. It does benefit the reader to have some prior knowledge of Alexander Hamilton, of course – go listen to the musical, it’s excellent – but even without that knowledge this is a beautiful story of love between two women who very much deserve it, and I would highly recommend it to all of you.