Guest Review: A Sudden Country
And now, while I am on vacation, I have a guest post for you. It is from my dear friend Paula, one of the most voracious readers and excellent writers I know. I trust her opinion and you should, too. Be sure to check out her bio at the end of the review.
13.95 Trade Paperback
I really love good historical fiction, “good” being the operative word. It’s not so easy to find. There are many historical novels that are, as far as I can tell, historically accurate but dull, dull, dull, totally predictable, written in such a plodding style that it takes a reader with far more patience than I to get through them. Then there are historical novels that are real pager turners but so lacking in historical accuracy that even a casual historian like me is put off by glaring errors. So when I run across a book like A Sudden Country, I savor every page, can’t wait to see what happens next but hate it when I see I’ve almost reached the end. Where the heck was I when the book was published in 2005?
In the opening paragraphs James MacLaren, sick with smallpox himself, treks through the snow carrying his one surviving, very ill child, trying to reach medical help. The bitter cold, his desperation and exhaustion leap off the page. Then we meet Lucy Mitchell. She’s just given birth to a daughter and is greeted with the news that her husband is thinking of taking the family over the Oregon Trail. Her pain at leaving the home she’s made and cherished, her foreboding that she will loose one of her five beloved children along the trail and her lack of choice in the matter is a knife twist to the gut.
This beautifully written book tells the parallel stories of Lucy Mitchell, reluctantly traveling the Oregon Trail with her family and James MacLaren, once a successful “gentleman” of Hudson’s Bay Company, trader, and mountain man. Lucy is grieving the loss of her home and the life she’s always known. James mired in sorrow for the beloved wife who has deserted him and the death by small pox of his children. Tracing the man he believes has stolen his wife, James finds that man driving a wagon for the Mitchell family. At this point, James and Lucy’s stories merge.
The beauty of the land she is traveling through is not lost on Lucy but neither is the hardship. She dutifully and capably tackles every chore set before her, carefully monitoring and instructing her three older daughters and little son while nursing her baby. But her sadness at leaving the old life behind and her disappointment in her husband’s subtle ineptitude creates a growing distance between husband and wife.
James, realizing he has, however unintentionally, deprived the Mitchell’s of a driver, reluctantly helps them along the way. But his search for Lise, his lost wife, never ends nor does his mourning lighten. How James and Lucy find the courage and strength to go on to a new reality makes wonderful reading. This book is lyrical, almost dream-like in places; yet it makes so very real the difficulty, the brutal reality, the beauty and wonder of the grueling journey westward.
Reviewed by Paula Harris