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Bootleg survival story
"What I admire most about Dorie is her ability to press forward under duress-she grits her teeth and keeps going." - Mary DesJarlais

by Mary DesJarlais

Dorie LaValle is married to a sweet, but incompetent farmer named Louie.

Her education is from the one-room schoolhouse and when she tires of a life of poverty, she takes matters into her own hands and starts a business.

It's 1928 in Anoka County, people are desperate to drink and Dorie is only too happy to serve hootch from her kitchen. At the beginning of the novel, named for "Dorie LaValle," she is naïve to the dangers and consequences of her business, but as the story unfolds, Dorie encounters Chicago mobsters, the somber sheriff with a reverence for the law and the collective scorn of the women of the town. She doesn't care what people think of her and she flaunts the evidence of her profits with her flamboyant hat collection in a town where women wear dresses made from flour sacks. She endures a loveless marriage while she longs for children. She rebels against the poverty that chains her to Louie and the farm, and fights to protect her business. Dorie is a survivor.

In preparation for writing this book I researched the lives of the women of the prohibition era. It's no secret they had to do it all without modern conveniences, such as Target or Amazon.com. They raised children, nursed the sick, cooked meals for large families and farmhands, attended church, midwifed animals and babies alike, sewed clothes, kept house. Often their children died. Their husbands may not have been of their choosing and divorce was rare. These women were survivors.

Dorie is sometimes prickly, selfish and stubborn beyond reason. She is often irritated at the world. Many readers reported that they didn't like Dorie at first, but later grew to understand her and love her.


A writer walks the line between wanting to create a sympathetic character that readers will fall in love with and in my case, how to make this character seem like a living, breathing person. Eventually Dorie, despite her flaws, realizes the deadly ramifications of her business and tries to make amends to all. What I admire most about Dorie is her ability to press forward under duress-she grits her teeth and keeps going.

Like most fictional characters, Dorie is a patchwork of my experiences and those of the women in my life. My oldest daughter was born with multiple cardiac anomalies; my first husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and endured treatment for 10 years before he died. In the last year of his life, I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. I have friends who are living with spouses with mental illness, alcoholism, children with depression, elderly failing parents. Are we not all a bit like Dorie? Tough, enduring and determined to go on?

Mary DesJarlais lives in St. Paul and works at the Minnesota Department of Labor and is working on her second historical fiction novel. www.marydesjarlais.com

Mary DesJarlais recommends these books with a strong sense of women survivors:
The Forever Marriage by Ann Bauer

The River Wife by Jonis Agee

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

What's on your bookshelf?
Send us 450 words about your booklife, plus your list of four to five related books by women authors, to editor@womenspress.com

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