THE JUMP-OFF CREEK by Molly Gloss

THE JUMP-OFF CREEK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There is a gentle, touching overcast to this raw-knuckled pioneer story of a lone (but, she insists, not ""lonely"") hardship-honed widow homesteading in 1895 Oregon. Gloss has drawn forth the needful humanity within the isolated lives of men and women bent on self-sufficiency and survival in a harsh land. Lydia Bennett Sanderson, raised on a poor Pennsylvania farm where she was a workhorse for both father and husband, sold her late (and unlamented) husband's goods, and with two mules and goats, began the trek to her Oregon land, purchased unseen. it was Tim Whiteaker--with his Indian partner, Blue Odell he owned a small herd of cattle--who in the icy rains of April found himself reluctantly helping the flat-voiced, stiff, and prickly Lydia to locate her land. Near Jump-Off Creek she'll see her cabin: ""built with unskinned pine logs chinked poorly with mud and fern and moss."" The roof is rotted, the logs mildewed, the stove rusted clean through, the animals' yard mud and stones. ""Yet,"" writes Lydia in her diary, ""I have not lost heart."" Warily, Tim and Blue and Lydia--all shy, spare of speech--exchange, over the months, fair-and-square favors. While Lydia toils into summer, laying fences, digging ditches, and repairing, Tim and Blue are caught up in a deadly spoilers' game with wolvers, who kill and bait cattle to trap wolves for bounty. One rootless loser is dangerous, and Tim finds revenge a sour need. Throughout some ill-fortune and her neighbors' tragedy, there'll be times for Lydia when her essential sweetness surfaces, her feelings stirred: there's a young woman friend; a July Fourth get-together; and even, through her fear and chagrin, a faint trace of pleasurable wonder at an (unaccepted) proposal from Tim, who figured Lydia would be eating poor and ""might be glad of an offer out."" At the close, the two neighbors begin a long road back from trial and grief. Gloss' conscientious McPhee-like detailing of hand-blistering homesteading toil is achingly effective; but it's the author's reading of lives locked in by hardship, loneliness, and real danger, and of their careful steps toward community, that is so appealing. A moving and engrossing first novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0618565876
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin