Love and gross bodily trauma roil this coming-of-age drama.
The first calamity to trouble the silver-mining town of Wallace, Idaho in the year 1917 is a bear attack that leaves town hellion Earl Foster badly mauled. Fortunately, claw wounds and a crushed ankle barely slow him down. A magnetic youth who embodies the raw vitality of the West, with his gargantuan appetites for food, work, whiskey and whores, the only thing that can sap his energies is his courtship of town beauty Bertie. Shallow, selfish and manipulative, Bertie is a small-scale Scarlett O’Hara; informed of the bear incident, all she can do is fret over which boy she can get to replace Earl as her date to the carnival. Other mishaps, including a mine accident, an avalanche, a vicious gang beating, murders and venereal disease, ensue, ushering Bertie, Earl and his three brothers into adulthood, as their anxious parents hover and ponder their own past travails. Entwined in their tale is Sadie, a young whore with a heart of gold who is abducted by a deranged liquor trader and imprisoned, along with a little girl, in his cabin. Widen (Grave Talker, 2005) has a good feel for period detail, and she effectively captures the atmosphere of a mining boom-town, as well as the uneasy shoulder-rubbing of genteel homes and churches with rough-hewn saloons, brothels and overcrowded boardinghouses. Though she has a tendency to explain the story instead of simply telling it–â€œHaving grown up with a sense of unworthiness throughout most of her life, Sadie’s inferiority complex had worsened from the incidents of the past two years”–the vivid setting and sympathetic characters will keep the pages turning.
An absorbing family saga.