A small-scale but emotionally rich first novel about an unwed pregnant teen spending the summer with her grandmother in the hardscrabble Nebraska Sandhills.
Lila’s flight-attendant mother sends Lila from Minneapolis to her grandmother Toby’s Nebraska farm to wait out the last months of her unwanted pregnancy. While Lila struggles with her pregnancy and her decision to put her unborn baby up for adoption, her visit stirs up long-simmering tensions for Toby, Toby’s bitter sister Gertie and George, who has worked on the farm for more than 50 years. Seventy-two and long widowed, Toby is no fawning grandma. Tough but loving, she still rides her horse regularly and can work up a man’s passions. It soon comes to light that although he never acted on his feelings, Gertie’s husband, now suffering from Alzheimer’s, was quietly in love with Toby for most of his marriage . . . not exactly a recipe for good sibling relations. Also in love with Toby long, long ago was George’s younger brother, David. When Toby was Lila’s age, she and David tried to run away together. Her father chased them in his car, shot and killed David, then crashed the car, accidentally killing his wife. Toby bore David’s child, who was cared for by distant relatives until he died at 12 of leukemia. Since then, George has secretly acted as Toby’s guardian angel, even through her happy marriage and the adoption of Lila’s mother. His unspoken love makes for irresistible reading. Despite Lila’s small romances and dramas, her story never rises to the dramatic or romantic energy of these oldsters (think Paul Newman with Joanne Woodward). Toward the end, the plot wobbles as the author recognizes, but only partially deflates, the cliché inherent in having a mortgage-holder show up, threatening to sell the farm out from under Toby.
A resonant love story, whatever the age of the lovers.