A coming-of-age novel set within the historical context of the late-19th-century rush to build a transcontinental railroad across the southern U.S. to San Diego.
Brendan and Gertrude Gould, children of Harold, wealthy financier in Akron, Ohio, are emotionally and financially beholden to their father. Brendan, who at four was sent away from home to live with an aunt after the sudden death of his mother, still seeks his father's love and approval; Gertrude, who has modeled herself after her father, thrives on the power afforded her by his wealth and position. Close to Brendan's heart is a plan to start an employee-controlled company in Akron to raise the standard of living. Disapproving of this venture, Harold orders him to travel to San Diego to gather information on the plausibility of a Texas and Pacific Railroad. Gertrude is in cahoots with her father until up-and-coming artist Luke Field, watching her study one of his paintings at a local gallery, notices another side to her. Sadly, Harold thwarts their love affair when he threatens to disinherit Gertrude if she marries an "artisan." Despairing over what he perceives as Gertrude's ambivalence, Luke heads out West to illustrate an article for Harper's. After quickly recognizing her mistake, Gertrude defies her father and sets out to find her love. For brother and sister, their journeys are personal awakenings, as they venture into the Wild West from their privileged positions in stodgy Akron. Despite occasionally clunky writing and a few overly complex subplots, Blake handles the various narrative turns with confidence: a Mexican rebellion driven by Harold's plan to annex Baja California; Brendan's visions of his mother in a sweat lodge built by a clairvoyant Indian; and Luke's partnership with a Chinese miner with lightning reflexes in a gold mine he's inherited from a recently deceased teacher. Much of the novel has to do with what is inherited and what is chosen, posing challenging questions for these young people at the close of the 1900s.
Twisting, turning, and stumbling toward wisdom.