Now, as an adult, I am continually amazed and in awe of those women who left all they knew and loved behind and traveled with their husbands and fathers into the unknown West. The heartbreak, hard work, and isolation is something I can't even fathom in today's age, where we are surrounded by communication, easy shopping, and easy transportation. Can you imagine sitting in a sod house--dirt floor, maybe one window, bugs, smell, and the endless wind as your only company? Not to even mention having children and standing by helpless when they got sick and died. We've all had a winter that has tested our tempers and our abilities to keep shoveling snow. How would we feel sitting out on the prairie, with blizzards and howling winds week after week--and no cozy home, endless coffee, or books to keep us company?
It would probably drive us nuts. And that is the focus of this novel, which was first published in 1988 and republished this year because it's going to be a movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank. I cannot wait to see it. But first, you need to read this novel. Mary Bee Cuddy is a spinster, living in Oklahoma Territory in the 1850's. She's a homesteader/former teacher who lives alone, grows crops, and is tough as nails. She's the neighbor who always helps out anyone in need. And after an extremely difficult winter, four women have quite simply lost their minds. Each of their stories is heartbreaking; they must leave the prairie and go back to Iowa, and from there to the families they left behind when they went West. But who will take them to Iowa? No one wants to; it falls to Mary Bee to volunteer to take on the difficult, weeks-long journey by wagon.
I don't want to say anymore about this novel, which is pretty short, but packs a punch emotionally. It is a tale of doing for others, heartbreak, making choices, and understanding that those who went before us and settled the West were extraordinary, brave people--especially the women. This is an excellent novel for book clubs; so much to talk about!
Rating: 9/10 for Mary Bee Cuddy and George (you'll just have to read it to find out about him); amazing writing that grips your heart and doesn't let go.
Available in paperback and e-book format.