PLAIN LANGUAGE by Barbara Wright


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Evocative scenes of Depression-era Colorado, with a low-wattage plot and unconvincing characters.

Screenwriter and second-novelist Wright (Easy Money, 1995) nicely details life on the plains, where drought and wind have take away the topsoil, and loneliness and hardship are constant for struggling farmers and their wives. Newly married to Alfred Bowen, Virginia was raised as a Quaker and is working for the Quakers when she meets Alfred in Mexico, where he has a job with the YMCA, though already decided to return home and farm: not to the lush family ranch on the well-watered mountain slopes, where his mother and father still live, but to a piece of treeless land to the east. The couple, who’ve met only twice but fall in love through letters, decide to marry, and Virginia comes out to Denver for the ceremony. At 34, she hasn’t expected to marry, and, though she’s deeply in love with Alfred, she has some hurts to bear—she’s been told she can’t have children—and certain secrets that give her shame. Alfred is also troubled by his past. Believing that his father despised him and preferred his elder brother, Samuel, who died in an accident, Alfred refuses to ask him for help, an attitude that nearly ruins him when low prices, drought, and a hard winter threaten ruin. As Virginia tries to adjust to farm life, she recalls her earlier years and regrets that she can’t have a child to end her isolation. Nothing goes well, and life gets even more complicated when Virginia discovers she actually is pregnant. They impulsively ask her brother, Jonathan, a shell-shocked veteran of WWI, to come to help them. Though a whiz with animals, Jonathan is entirely unpredictable and causes nothing but trouble. He forgets his chores and manages to get Ida, a local mentally disabled laundry woman, pregnant, as the farm falls on even harder times. Some unexpected if schematic solutions do appear.

Overall: thin, despite good local color.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7432-3020-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003


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