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An epistolary novel that, while not scanting the hardships and tragedies of pioneer life, luminously evokes a pristine northern New Mexico. When Abigail Reynolds heads to the Southwest with her great-great-grandmother Abigail Conklin's letters in hand, she discovers not only a home for herself but family long thought to have disappeared. And between this discovery and the making of her new life, she offers the first of Abigail's correspondence, both as a family record and a testament to what becomes a lifelong love affair with a place. In 1867, with the Civil War over and prospects for Abigail's husband, Clayton, thin in his native Virginia, the Conklins joined a wagon train heading to California via New Mexico, where Clayton had been promised work in the mines. As she writes to her sister Maggie, who will be the primary recipient of her letters over the next five decades, Abigail not only defends Clayton's decision but records their travails and triumphs, along with her own growing attachment to the land. A son is drowned on the passage out; Clayton's mining ventures fail; and Abigail has to ask her Virginia relatives for money. When the Conklins abandon the rough and tumble of mining camp for farm life, however, Abigail, has found her home. She's determined to stay on even when Clayton is often away, water is scarce, and she has only her eldest daughter, Amy (who will eventually leave to study and marry in the East), to rely on for help. Three other children are born, two of whom survive, but Abigail is a survivor, too--a woman of independent spirit and loving heart who's not ashamed, though her Anglo neighbors shun her, to rear in her old age her runaway daughter's half-Indian child. The letters here, though richly detailed, are secondary to the landscape that Osborn, a poet and novelist (Patchwork, 1991), renders as a splendidly vital presence, vying with Abigail for center stage.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Morrow