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By the author of Amanda/Miranda and other entertainments: a four-generational set of stout-hearted ladies--tough, wily, dwarfing their men, independent, and passing along their survivalist strengths to their daughters (often at a chilly or chary distance). Lena Wheatley tells her story of the wagon-train trek from Illinois to California in 1850, when she was a shy, wary 14: she loses her mother to TB and loses friends, particularly her "idol," the beautiful, graceful Sarah Ann, to an Indian attack; only after the searing journey is over does Lena, scalded by loss, dare to take comfort in the remnants of family--her adoptive Pa and Sarah Ann's wounded brother Lorenzo; she'll marry miner/farmer Evan after Pa's death. And then. . . Sarah Ann is found!--now a tattooed "savage," mind-crippled and pregnant by a Mojave husband. The two women are thereafter linked for life: Lena's child is whiny Opal, whom she idolizes; Sarah Ann will bear Effie, whom Lena will reluctantly adopt as her own. So, in generation #2, Effie tells of the move to a boarding house in Nebraska--where gruff, kind Sophie Wilhelm takes on widowed Lena as housekeeper, Sarah Ann as cook, grooming the despised Effie as a society beauty; and Effie's infatuation for Lorenzo forces Lena to tell the truth of her parentage. Effie's daughter Constance will host the next segment--as the narrative leaps from hard-time brothel days (Lena must diversify after the great fire of 1875) to silks and furs and San Francisco, where Effie, married to theater impresario Anton Nicholas, is now "Eve Waring"--a turquoise-eyed beauty who'll pack houses as an actress (and net the Prince of Wales). Constance's tale, however, spreads into other family matters: horrid Aunt Opal has married and produced twin boys, one of whom, gambler and sadist Terry, marries Constance's best friend Rose (who'll take terrible revenge); Constance marries Englishman Hugh, who's killed in the Boer war (but waiting at home is her fellow architect Joe); Constance's son Anton meets Rose's daughter June during WW I; June later dies. So the last testimony is Anton's tribute in 1939 to a Family of Women. . . and his own young daughter. Winey, full-bodied, gossipy, offering both calico and satin: a romantically styled winner.
Pub Date: April 18th, 1983
ISBN: 0440187907
Page count: 420pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1983


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