Tuesday, October 29, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker

I received this book free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

If you liked Inland by Tea Obreht (which I did!) then you may also enjoy One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker.

Set in 1876, on the harshly beautiful Wyoming frontier, this love story is loosely based on that of the author’s ancestors.

The story shifts between the viewpoints of Beulah, a mystically wise thirteen-year-old daughter of the prairie, Clyde, the strong, responsible neighbor who is learning what kind of man he will grow to be, and their mothers, Cora and Nettie Mae.

The women are polar opposites. Cora is a soft city woman who cannot adapt to life on the isolated farm. Nettie Mae is a battle-hardened prairie wife, who wields her bitterness as a sword and shield.

Although Cora has four healthy children and a devoted husband, she is desperately lonely. For no other reason, she commits adultery with her neighbor, Substance Weber, Nettie Mae’s husband. Her own husband discovers them in the act. In the heat of passion, he shoots to kill. Instantly regretful, he turns himself in to the sheriff.

Nettie Mae has lost four children and, now, her husband. The man was a brute. Nettie Mae would consider herself well rid of him, except she needs his strength to survive the coming winter. Her sole remaining child, Clyde, is a sturdy young man and a hard worker, but it’s all too much for him to take on alone. Even so, they’re better off than their neighbors. When Cora’s husband is sentenced to two years in prison, she’s left alone with four children. Clyde takes it upon himself to help them–against his embittered mother’s express orders.

Beulah is the true heart of the story. Calm, resilient, accepting, with the ability to see glimpses of the future, to commune with nature, and to speak to the dead, she helps the two older women realize that the only way they will survive is to combine their resources. Cora’s guilt and Nettie Mae’s hatred make this a bitter pill, but Cora moves her family to Nettie Mae’s farm and they try to make it work. Beulah and Clyde, drawn together by circumstance, develop an unbreakable bond, which unnerves Nettie Mae all the more, nearly leading her to undo everything Beulah has striven for.

The novel shows prairie life in all its hardness, danger, and beauty. The stark realism of the day-to-day life is undercut somewhat by Beulah’s mystical powers, which made the novel float between magical realism and historical fiction. Yet it’s a beautifully written story that tugs at the heartstrings.