A homesteader in post–Civil War Minnesota fights the elements, the natives and his own worst instincts on his passage to a new home.
“Almost—almost,” gasps the well-worn protagonist of this debut historical novel as he closes in on home; “Not even close” would be a more accurate description for the hero’s odds of success in a book marred by a derivative plot and dull characterizations. Henry Morton has come home after four years fighting in the country’s bloody civil war to find his wife dead of consumption, his small farm mismanaged by his deadbeat boys and last year’s crop destroyed by drought. Abandoned by his sons and left with nothing to his name, the bleary soldier grasps on to the one straw he has left: two allotments of 80 acres granted for his service to his country. A self-proclaimed practical and realistic man, Morton heads to Green Prairie, Minn., where he proceeds to demolish his newfound luck with sheer stupidity. After impregnating a French barmaid named Agnes Marie Guyette, he marries her in haste, a decision he quickly resents. A streak of drinking and gambling endangers Henry’s claim when a posse of n’er-do-well locals try to swindle him out of his land via an overcomplicated conspiracy. When her husband leaves for St. Cloud to sign documents that will legitimize his claim, Agnes believes herself abandoned and walks into a nearby lake, drowning her daughter in her grief. She’s rescued by a wagon train with a conveniently abandoned baby boy for Agnes to foster. Meanwhile Henry is knocked out of his stupor by the criminal charge of murdering both his wife and daughter.
A reader could suffocate in the overwrought melodramas, backwoods vernacular and western clichés that prop up this book.