Published by Lake Union Publishing on October 8, 2019
Source: the publisher
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From the bestselling author of The Ragged Edge of Night comes a powerful and poetic novel of survival and sacrifice on the American frontier.
Wyoming, 1876. For as long as they have lived on the frontier, the Bemis and Webber families have relied on each other. With no other settlers for miles, it is a matter of survival. But when Ernest Bemis finds his wife, Cora, in a compromising situation with their neighbor, he doesn’t think of survival. In one impulsive moment, a man is dead, Ernest is off to prison, and the women left behind are divided by rage and remorse.
Losing her husband to Cora’s indiscretion is another hardship for stoic Nettie Mae. But as a brutal Wyoming winter bears down, Cora and Nettie Mae have no choice but to come together as one family—to share the duties of working the land and raising their children. There’s Nettie Mae’s son, Clyde—no longer a boy, but not yet a man—who must navigate the road to adulthood without a father to guide him, and Cora’s daughter, Beulah, who is as wild and untamable as her prairie home.
Bound by the uncommon threads in their lives and the challenges that lie ahead, Cora and Nettie Mae begin to forge an unexpected sisterhood. But when a love blossoms between Clyde and Beulah, bonds are once again tested, and these two resilient women must finally decide whether they can learn to trust each other—or else risk losing everything they hold dear.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’ve said before that books set out in the American West during the 1800’s are my FAVORITE. This story is set in Wyoming in the 1870’s. There are two families living in proximity to one another in the shadow of the Bighorn Mountains: the Bemis family and the Webber family. There is no one else within at least twenty miles in any direction. The two families, although not close at all, have come to depend on the fact that they are near one another if anyone should need anything. All of that changes when Ernest Bemis shoots and kills Substance Webber down by the river and then goes to prison for murder.
This isn’t a story about that murder, although it happens early on and is felt throughout the story. This is a story of how two families with all of the tension and emotion in the world goes on to make it through the long, cold winter without the men of their houses. This is a story about the forgiveness that comes-or doesn’t come-after such sin. Sixteen-year-old Clyde Webber takes on the burden of the heavy work at both homesteads, much to the angst and disagreement of his mother, because he can see how much the Bemis family needs him. And Beulah Bemis, just thirteen, takes to helping him. Beulah is much stronger and dependable than she appears.
There is a tension that weaves through reading this story. Cora’s guilt and remorse is heavy in the her POV. I love that I could feel the weight of her remorse over how her actions had completely changed two entire families. It seems like when I read stories that include infidelity, the ones involved do not always show remorse-the people in the relationship don’t always try to fix the harm they have caused. But that is written exceptionally well into the narrative here, and is probably why I felt so strongly for Cora. Nettie Mae Webber, now a widow, was much harder to love and care for at first. She was so rude and angry and nasty at times that I could barely stand to read her scenes on the page. I would have thought my sympathetic feelings would lie mostly toward the person wronged, but in this case I just couldn’t love Nettie Mae as much as Cora. Watching these two women work out how their two families would peacefully interact after such a violation was fascinating to me.
Speaking of characters, these are written very well. In fact, this book relies heavy on the characters and their thoughts and conversations to convey the story rather than big action scenes. Certainly there are things that happen that raise the suspense, but this story is carried by its characterization.
I most loved Clyde Webber. I just loved reading his scenes. Such a strong boy with a lot of feeling about what his father had done and how his mother behaved in the aftermath. Clyde was raised under the mentality that men do not cry or show emotion-they get the job done when it is time, no matter what. So watching him navigate his loss as a young man vs. stepping into his father’s role in the family was really great. Young Beulah is a great character as well, but the almost-magical portions of her POVs made it just a teensy bit harder for me to enjoy her role. I never do as well when there is mysticism or magical realism in stories, even in small parts, and I do feel like this book is mostly Beulah’s story.
What I loved most about this book is that it is a great look at life in the West during the time when it was so sparsely populated. When the people out there had to depend on themselves to survive the dry, hot weather and the cold desolation of the winter. I think this is best when read sort of slowly, in order to really take in everything that was going on out in this neck of the woods, and to really appreciate how difficult it was for these families to look beyond themselves and their feelings in order to survive and to take care of their children. A great story, and one that is largely inspired by the author’s real-life family too.