Love is inextricably linked to suffering in McNeal’s (Dark Water, 2010) sweeping historical novel set in the 1930s.
The story begins in Scotland, where 19-year-old Aldine McKenna and her older sister, Eileen, are stuck inside due to 11 days of rain. The sisters live with their Aunt Sedge, who—unmarried and childless—serves as a warning to them not to wait too long to fall in love. When Mormon missionaries ring the doorbell, Aldine is the one who lets them in, but her sister is the one who converts to Mormonism and leaves for America to marry Elder Cooper. Despite its significant length, the novel maintains a swift forward pace and gives equal attention to plot, character, and prose. Having followed Eileen to New York, Aldine soon decides she needs a life of her own so she responds to a newspaper ad for a schoolteacher in Dorland, Kansas, and arrives in the heart of the Dust Bowl, where she will live as a boarder with the Price family on their failing, drought-stricken farm. McNeal's roaming third-person narrator reveals the people of this world in all their desperation, boredom, longing, poverty, and unwavering, often irrational hope. The Prices have mixed reactions to Aldine: Mrs. Price mistrusts her; Charlotte, the savvy eldest daughter, manipulates her; Neva, the lovable youngest daughter, instantly bonds with her; and both men—Mr. Price and his son, Clarence—find her dangerously alluring. While these factors move the situation into some familiar territory, the memorable characters, well-constructed setting, and beautiful prose make the novel shine.
Dust, lust, and human drama rendered with sensitivity, depth, and breadth.