Frank and telling stories that detail the developing years of young Minnesotan Lillian Anderson.
Former resident of the Ten Thousand Lakes area herself, first-timer Harfenist sets her 11 linked tales against the poignantly imagined backdrop of Sioux County, Minnesota, during the years from 1959–70. Starting when Lillian is eight years old, we are given snapshots from the girl’s life, stories whose perspective gradually matures just as Lillian does. In the beginning, she seems happy with life in her family’s lakeside house. But as the stories follow her into her teenage years, the tone darkens. Her father, who before had seemed merely cantankerous, is unmasked as a bitter and lazy drunk, while Lillian’s mother, once depicted as fun-loving and carefree, looks now to be just a careless mess. Harfenist doesn’t fall into the common trap in coming-of-age stories of making Lillian seem above her surroundings. While bookish and eager to make a life for herself in the Twin Cities, Lillian retains the smart, capable airs of a rural girl while, at the same time, fighting to keep her eyes on something beyond the broken-down chaos her parents wallow in. The sights and sounds of the 1960s creep in around the sides of the narrative—the incessant Beatles tunes, a brother sent off to Vietnam. But these notes are minuscule, surrounded by the immensity of the cold and watery Sioux County landscape with its duck hunters, snowmobiles, and occasional trips to the city. Most importantly, though, the author makes Lillian a memorable character whose forced but confused voice evidences a maturity not chosen but thrust upon her. Unafraid of hard work, but not pining for responsibility, she and her friends drive the long Minnesota roads, chain-smoking and dreaming of their futures: “All you need is a radio in a rust-free car and twenty-nine cents for a gallon of gas.”
An unexpected delight: tales about an unlikely girl that linger well after the last page.