Feb 12, 2013

A Clearing in the Wild

by Jane Kirkpatrick

Another book I picked up from the Book Thing; my copy jacketless so I didn't really know what it was about until I started reading. From a map in the endpapers and the opening chapters I gathered it had to do with people settling in my home state when it was still just a territory and hoped for something rather like The Egg and I in its descriptiveness. I was a bit disappointed in that the characters only reach the Puget Sound area at the very end, but still got some of the beautiful, rough landscape and early settlers' lives I was hoping for.

The main character here, Emma Giesy, is a member of a religious community formed of German immigrants. When the book opens Emma is a young woman chafing at the restraints of her culture. Women were pretty much expected to be subservient, seen and not heard, and instead she is outspoken, forward-thinking and rebellious. She falls in love with an older man and they get married against the wishes of the leader. Then she complains that her new husband gets sent off on recruiting missions without her, and manipulates her way into a scouting party bound west to find new land for their community to relocate. The bulk of the novel is about their travels and hardships. When then finally decide on a site on the banks of the Willapa River, things look pretty miserable. The land is harder to "tame" than they expected, it rains all winter, their crops don't grow well. But Emma finds herself falling in love with the beauty of the formidable land and begins to learn how to live there (small things that made all the difference, like natives showing her how to make wide hats of cedar bark that keep off the wet). When the main party finally arrives and their leader outright rejects the site- to the bitter disappointment of Emma's husband, she can't bring herself to give up on it yet.

There's so much going on here that throughout I was kept interested- Emma bears two children in the wilderness, and although she never looses her inquisitiveness her character does grow some. She learns some wisdom in when to keep her mouth shut, but also how to stand up to the men around her when it matters. I think my favorite part of the book was when she settled in a half-finished house all alone with her child for several weeks. Her husband also faces lots of challenges and although his character doesn't grow as much as Emma's, there is some development there. Most of the other characters were pretty flat for me, and near the end the story did start to drag. While it closed on a rather hopeful note, the ending felt a bit jumbled to me, a scramble to tie up all the loose ends and name where all the people went to as the community party dissolved. But overall I liked it. A good read.

It's based on real people and events.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 368 pages, 2006

more opinions:
Life Is But a Dream
WV Stitcher
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading!


bermudaonion said...

Emma sounds like a great character. I have a feeling I'd like this book too.

Jenny said...

Whoa, you buy books that you don't know what they're about because no jacket? But how will you know if you might possibly like it if there's no synopsis?

Jeane said...

Ah, I should edit that. It wasn't actually a bargain table, it was the Book Thing. Basement full of FREE books, cast-offs from libraries and other places that don't want them anymore. I go there maybe once a year (it's a few hours' drive) and snag anything that looks interesting, sometimes (in this case) from the title alone!)