The Evolution of Annabel Craig

A Novel

Hardcover

April 16, 2024 | ISBN 9780593596159

Ebook

April 16, 2024 | ISBN 9780593596166

About the Book

A young Southern woman sets out on a journey of self-discovery as the infamous 1925 Scopes Trial tests her faith and her marriage in this moving novel from the author of Time After Time and The Irresistible Henry House.

“Lisa Grunwald is a national treasure. . . . An essential American story from a master craftsman.”—Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Left Undone

I had never questioned a miracle, witnessed a gunfight, or seen a dead body. . . . I had thought I knew exactly what I wanted and what I didn't. Before the summer was over, all that and much more would change.
 
Annabel Hayes—born, baptized, and orphaned in the sleepy conservative town of Dayton, Tennessee—is thrilled to find herself falling quickly and deeply in love with George Craig, a sophisticated attorney newly arrived from Knoxville. But before the end of their first year of marriage, their lives are beset by losses. The strain on their relationship is only intensified when John T. Scopes is arrested for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution at the local high school.

Foreshadowing today’s culture wars, the trial against Scopes is a spectacle unlike any the country has seen. William Jennings Bryan—a revered Southern politician—joins the prosecution, pitting himself and his faith against the renowned defense attorney Clarence Darrow. Journalists descend in a frenzy, thrusting the town and its citizens into the national spotlight. And when George joins the team defending Scopes, Annabel begins to question both her beliefs and her vows.

As the ongoing trial divides neighbor against neighbor, it also divides the Craigs in unexpected ways. But in the midst of these conflicts—one waged in an open courtroom, the other behind closed doors—Annabel will discover that the path to her own evolution begins with the courage to think for herself.
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Praise for The Evolution of Annabel Craig

“Beloved author Lisa Grunwald puts readers in the center of the real-life trial that divided a town and captivated a nation. Sensitive, poignant, and full of heart, this is a tale that feels both important and inevitable. We all studied the Scopes Trial in school, but Grunwald’s retelling is stunningly timely and relevant for today.”—Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post

“Lisa Grunwald is a national treasure and The Evolution of Annabel Craig is proof. Annabel, the voice of this splendid novel, is feisty, curious, and a survivor. When the historic Scopes Trial unfolds in her hometown, Dayton, Tennessee, her citizens, or Annabel will never be the same. When Annabel’s beliefs are challenged and her faith in love is tested, she finds her truth. This is an essential American story from a master craftsman.”—Adriana Trigiani, author of The Good Left Undone

“Lisa Grunwald has created a luminous heroine in Annabel Craig, a woman finding her way in a fast-changing world, forced to question everything she loves and stands for, from her choice of a husband to her spiritual beliefs. Eerily resonant in today’s troubled times, this is a magnificent, page-turning story full of heart and bursting with empathy.”—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Spectacular

“Engaging fiction about minds actually being changed by a landmark 1925 courtroom culture clash over science and religion set in a small Southern town and covered by the nation’s media. This is timely and hopeful.”—Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize– winning author of Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion
 
“Layered and timely . . . Grunwald provides vivid depictions . . . as well as a nuanced and well-rounded view. With book bans and anti-trans legislation tearing apart school districts, Grunwald’s evenhanded historical speaks volumes to the present day.”Publishers Weekly

“Grunwald wisely tells the story from the perspective of an older Annabel, reflecting her own evolution. . . . Sure to be a book-club favorite as well as a gentle corrective to our current polarized culture.”Booklist

“Grunwald’s research is admirable . . . and Annabel offers some important insights: ‘Women made the small decisions and men made the big ones. The small decisions often had the biggest consequences.’” Kirkus Reviews
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Excerpt

The Evolution of Annabel Craig

1

Ever since Prohibition had closed the taverns and barred liquor from the hotels, Robinson’s Drugstore, on Main Street, had been the unofficial town center. It was the place where Dayton’s bigwigs met to chatter and smoke and think up ways that the town could bring in business. Robinson’s was a large store, deep and wide, with gem-­colored syrups glittering behind the soda fountain, and thick wooden shelves that held medicines, combs, film, books, sweets, cigars, and just about anything you could want. Folks tended to linger at the tables in back—­tippy round tables on wrought-­iron legs with looped feet that looked as if they could walk.

On an afternoon in early May of 1925, I’d gone in to buy some buttons for my husband’s shirts and to pick up a fresh roll of film, but Hank Dawson, the boy at the counter, told me my new batch of photos had just arrived, so I sat down to see how they’d turned out and to drink a cherry Coke. Two tables in front of me, under a ceiling fan stirring their cigarette smoke, a half dozen of the town leaders were hatching a plan. The men wore wrinkled pale linen jackets, and wide ties that ended about three inches up from their belts. They wore straw boater hats that they kept pushing back from their foreheads in greater and greater excitement.

Their topic was a brief article that had just come out in the Chattanooga Daily Times, and George “Rapp” Rappleyea, a short, frenetic thirty-­year-­old engineer who ran Dayton’s failing coal and iron works, stood up to read it aloud. It seemed that in New York, a group called the American Civil Liberties Union was offering to back any Tennessee teacher willing to test a new law in court. This law, which Rapp said the governor had just signed, was called the Butler Act, and it was meant to protect our state’s children by forbidding the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools. When Rapp finished reading the article, the men murmured and called for more fountain drinks. Then they did a small thing that would turn out to be monumental. They sent Hank to find John Scopes, the coach of the high school football team. Not ten minutes later, John came in from playing tennis, wearing a sweat-­drenched white shirt and an unsuspecting smile, and in less than half an hour, they had talked him into being arrested.

They started with things like

“You filled in for Mr. Ferguson when those boys and girls were studying for their final exams, right?”

And

“You taught them all about Charles Darwin, right?”

And

“You don’t have any particular plans for this summer, do you, John?”

Frank “F.E.” Robinson was the drugstore’s owner and also head of the Rhea County school board. Eager and affable, with a tidy, wide side part in his hair, he pulled up a chair for John and handed him an orange soda. Once more, Rapp read the article aloud. The Butler Act made it illegal to teach “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

Rapp was originally from New York, and he had the kind of energy I imagined all citified people did. His wiry brown hair stuck both up and out, like the hair of a cartoon character with his finger in an electric socket. He put the paper down, took a step back, and thrust an arm toward John as if calling him up to receive a medal.

“They need a Tennessee teacher. We want you to be that teacher,” he said.

Before John could respond, the other men chimed in:

“If Dayton doesn’t do it, some other town will.”

And

“Some other town will get the glory.”

“And the attention.”

“And the business.”

I was curious, so I stayed put, just sifting through my photographs, though by now I’d seen them all many times. A few were portraits I’d been hired to take, but most were still lifes I’d done for myself. A field of sunflowers. A cloud formation. My gray cat, Spitfire, somehow looking annoyed.

With all those men talking over each other, it was hard to figure out if they were more worked up about defending the Bible story or about becoming famous for defending the Bible story. It seemed that at least three of them were truly in favor of the Butler Act, and that Rapp himself was firmly against it. But gradually, I realized it didn’t matter what each man believed about creation or evolution or what should be taught and where: They all agreed emphatically that testing the law in Dayton would be sure to bring in business—­maybe even revive the blast furnace that had once helped the town thrive.

“Whattaya say, John?” Rapp finally asked.

John reminded them that he wasn’t the regular biology teacher and had only filled in for him during review classes.

“But you had them review that science textbook, right?”

“And evolution’s in that textbook, right?”

“It’s the state’s own textbook,” John said matter-­of-­factly. “And yes, of course evolution is in it.”

“Then that’s that,” Rapp said. “Are you willing to be our Tennessee teacher?”

Both he and John wore round horn-­rimmed glasses, and they happened to take them off and wipe them at the same moment. They laughed in unison and, in unison, put their glasses back on.

John Scopes said he was willing.

Frank Robinson looked newborn. He shook John’s hand, clapped him on the shoulder, strode to the telephone at the counter, and asked the operator to connect him to the Chattanooga Times. He said, “This is F. E. Robinson in Dayton, Tennessee. I’m chairman of the school board here. We’ve just arrested a man for teaching evolution.”

Even decades later, that very same little table where the men had sat would be ensconced in the Tennessee State Museum and would feature, under glass, a card that read:

At this table, the Scopes evolution trial was started, May 5, 1925

Here is what I knew about evolution on that day in May of 1925: Nothing. Sure, I must have studied it on at least one day in high school, because the textbook hadn’t changed since I’d graduated five years before. But if you’d asked me about evolution then, all I would have told you is that folks who believed in it thought men had come from monkeys, and so we should pray for those folks. I’d have told you I’d heard that evolution was a conspiracy hatched by godless Yankee highbrows to turn good Christians away from the Bible and therefore destine us to spend eternity in hell.

What I didn’t know about evolution was anything close to the reasoning or the facts behind the science. And I didn’t know that, when confronted with even the word alone, some people who were otherwise decent and faithful would lose their decency in order to protect their faith.

But I did know John Scopes. He’d come to Dayton the year before to teach some science and math classes and to coach the Yellow Jackets, the Rhea Central football team. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d photographed him with the boys for the yearbook. John’s face was shaped like a spoon, and his pale hair was already thinning. He was twenty-­four, just a year older than I was, close in age and spirit to the boys—­and it had taken me a while to settle them all down to pose for the picture. They’d been tossing footballs at John and swiping cigarettes from his shirt pocket, and he’d been saying, “Now, boys,” but smiling just the same.

John Scopes seemed like a shy but popular fellow, and I’d spotted him at church and church functions. I was sure I’d seen him singing hymns without having to read from a hymnal. And I knew I’d seen him bow his head when Reverend Byrd said, “Let us pray.”

At Robinson’s, I paid for my cherry Coke, gathered my photos, and then went outside to wait for John. I stood next to the tall white porcelain scale that I’d always thought looked like a large lollipop. I noticed the wavy shimmers on the mesh of the screen door, torn and patched in many places and floppy from all the hands and elbows that had pushed against it for so many years. I tried as always to tuck my hair back into the bun that was forever unraveling and falling against my neck.

“Why’d you say yes?” I asked John as soon as the screen door banged shut behind him.

I was genuinely perplexed.

“Howdy to you too,” he said. If he was rattled by what he’d just agreed to do, it didn’t show in the slightest. His eyes were blue and calm.

“Howdy,” I said. “Why’d you do it?”

“Seems like a worthy cause,” John said.

“To break the law?”

“To break this law.”

“But it’s the law.”

“But it’s a bad law.”

About the Author

Lisa Grunwald
Lisa Grunwald is the author of seven novels, including Time After Time, The Irresistible Henry House, and The Theory of Everything. Along with her husband, former Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, she edited the anthologies The Marriage Book, Women’s Letters, and Letters of the Century. Grunwald is an occasional essayist and runs a side hustle called ProcrastinationArts, where she sells the other things she makes with pencils and paper. She lives in New York City. More by Lisa Grunwald
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