Glittenberg (Land, Love, Life, 2016, etc.) presents a family saga set on the prairies of Colorado in the early 20th century.
In 1909, John William Schultz and his cousin Gus Schultz move their wives and families from Iowa to Colorado to take advantage of the Extended Homestead Act. They are helped by a half-Cheyenne man named Red Sun in Hair and by the knowledge that John William gained from his father, an expert on seeds. The novel follows them through love and tragedy as Gus schemes to acquire as much land as possible through fair means or foul. A generation later, readers are following John William’s sons, William and Hank. The novel would have benefited from more nuanced characters, as most of the ones here might as well have been wearing white or black hats from the moment they were born; the good people, like William, are honest, helpful, hardworking, and dedicated to maintaining the farmland, while the bad people, like Hank, are scheming, cheating, selfish, lazy, and careless of the condition of the soil. The story goes on to track the family through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl crisis, and World War II. In a very brief framing story, readers learn that, in 1983, Hank has been killed in an apparent accident, but this might have been better as an epilogue. Glittenberg’s descriptions of the hard lives of pioneers on the prairie are the most engaging parts of the book; her use of detail will help readers feel grounded on the homestead, as when she provides a list of what the families brought with them: “six children, two cows, two dogs, dishes, bed frames, bedding, cook stoves, wash tubs, cooking utensils, more dishes, and plenty of flour and root vegetables, and plus hay for the livestock.” The novel could have used a stronger edit to curb the overuse of dashes and repetition of information, among other style issues. That said, the stories of survival—both after the arrival at the homestead and later, during the Dust Bowl era—are captivating.
A well-researched and enjoyable, if flawed, historical novel of American pioneers.