This spiky, sun-blistered saga of Melissa Baker, hard-scrabblin' wife and mother of six, begins in Arizona's Mesa in 1910 and ends in the near-present when Melissa is a cantankerous 90 years of age. Noble has dedicated her first novel to ""Those pioneer women who survived in a life of suppression,"" and certainly suppression--being forced to take meanness from a man--is much on the author's mind; but the preaching never outshouts the thorny talk, the formidable scenery, or the solid story. Melissa's husband, Ben Baker, a reluctant emigrâ€š from Texas and 18 years older than Melissa, is a small ranch owner, but Melissa has no love for him. Not surprising, since Ben is always a harsh and unwelcome presence--thickly insensitive to the plight of his work-worn wife; oblivious to the trials of child-bearing, of being left alone with a household of sick children, of moving from one scraggly house to another. Furthermore, Ben will have nothing to do with Melissa's beloved family, he won't allow her to cut her long bothersome hair, and he lacks the caution that might have saved the life of one son. So, though Melissa finds tenderness with nice cowboy Ike (whom she helps to escape after a just killing), it's only when Ben deserts the family for Texas that she really starts to live for herself. As her children move off one by one, Melissa sets out to work--as a cook in a mining camp where she meets gentle Jason, and in California as cook and farm laborer. She will at last divorce Ben and marry Jason, having a whole mess of happy years before sliding off, a tough old bird at 90, with a vision of the Mesa--and Ike. The author was born in 1910 in Arizona Territory and--whatever your reaction to the feminist undertones here--you can believe in every scrub oak and hackberry along the way.