PURSUIT OF BLISS by Betty Palmer Nelson


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 Amid a veritable meadow-growth of novels about the hard working lives of mid-19th-century farm-women, Nelson's (Private Knowledge; The Weight of Light) are sturdily hands above the others. Her rural Tennessee soil-breakers and starched-collar townsfolk are solid and free-standing, her narration bright, simple, and straight-arrow. Here, we follow the fortunes of a young woman as she matures in the rapidly changing world of 1913-19. Annie Bee, at 16, fairly bounds over to the neighboring Hendersons to marry Ral, farm worker and skilled horse-trainer, and--following the ancient hierarchical practice--gladly becomes part of respected Mrs. Henderson's work team. Eventually, she and Ral have a home of their own (there's one glorious moment of Eden- like play when even stolid Ral steps out of his circumscribed life), but strains are placed on the marriage as a sponging relative must be put up; Ral lends out Annie Bee's carefully saved money; and she comes to see how Ral's eyes can ``lock her out.'' There's also the birth of two children, plus a move to a nearby city where the world suddenly expands for Annie Bee. She is asked to nurse the patients of a local doctor (selected patients--he will allow a dirt-poor woman and a small black child to die). Meanwhile, Annie Bee learns about injustice, the surprisingly ``right'' fact of divorce, and then, for the first time, experiences passionate, adult love. But, then, should--can--she leave Ral and the prospect of ``every day together like wheels of a railway car, run by an iron rod [to keep] the center of each of them apart from the other''? A decorously paced, quietly insightful novel of awakenings, with an ambiance as real and resonant as a rain barrel in a Tennessee morning mist.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1992
ISBN: 0-312-08169-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1992


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