Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

genre: fiction

When we first get to know Abbie Deal, she's a little girl on the prairie, making dolls out of rocks and spending her little free time daydreaming of growing up to be someone really accomplished.  As she grows up, gets married and starts a family of her own, Abbie Deal becomes a pioneer in her own right. She and her husband take their wagon to the Nebraska wilderness where she begins a life of sacrifice and accomplishment - if not the kind of accomplishment she'd imagined as a girl.

As I planned for a huge road trip all through the midwest, I did a lot of searching for a quintessential pioneer book and I found this book on several lists.  I found an awesome vintage copy online but of course it took me forever to actually read it, with the way my life is now. ANYWAY.  I hardly read any of it actually IN Nebraska but having just driven through that delightful state showed me how very intimate Aldrich was with the prairie.  Her love of the land while simultaneously cursing its wiles was real.

The writing is lyrical - simple and tender.  I can see how some people might feel like it sloshes into sentimental occasionally but for me, I believed in Abbie's experience I believed in her heartache. I felt so close to Abbie - as a mom myself, I related to her emotions about her children, her willingness to put her own dreams on hold to provide for them.   The book skips forward in time pretty quickly - there are often huge jumps with small scenes in between, snippets of her life - and it's an 80 year life!  The transitions forward in time felt smooth.  It's amazing to think of the change these pioneer women saw in their lifetime - from living in a sod house in near complete isolation to automobiles and electricity.   Abbie's reflections on her lifetime, the things that matter most to her in the end, actually had me in tears.

I know that it's not for everyone, but this book totally hit the spot for me.

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