Yerby's best novel since The Dahomean (1971) begins with longwinded clichÃ‰ plotting but then settles down--to some well-researched and absorbing stretches about homesteaders digging in for a little bit of eternity on the Great Plains. In 1866 uprooted New England manufacturer Ethan Lovejoy, paddlewheeling on the Missouri to Atchison, Kansas, rescues unemployed young actress Anne Jeffreys from a horde of caterwauling suitors with a marriage proposal--and she accepts (""A rush of tears blind-scalded his eyes, flooded the bony contours of his cheeks""). So Anne goes to work as a schoolteacher in another town while Ethan builds his homestead for the marriage: breaking sod and building houses, well-digging, caring for animals, teaching school himself in winter (corporal punishment, facing an angry father with pistols, boneheaded students). But then Ethan falls for schoolgirl Nora Curtiss, brilliant daughter of the town's saloonkeeper. And though Ethan stays true to his vow and weds Anne, he broods for Nora--who marries blackguardly Price Andrews. Ethan and Anne have a son--who dies in a freak storm; Anne slowly goes mad, turns violent, is committed, and finally drowns; Price degrades Nora; Ethan kills Price. . . and at last marries Nora. Old stuff, prone to overwriting and stilted dialogue--but the hard life on the windy Plains is well-evoked, with chunks of informative detail on harvesting (Ethan devises a self-binding, wheat-stacking harvester that eventually reaps him a fortune) and homesteading.