From Dallas (The Persian Pickle Club, 1995, etc.), a transparently homespun tale of pioneering women facing tough challenges when their men go off to fight for the Union.
The story, which awkwardly mixes period settings with contemporary politics, is told in the form of letters from Alice Bullock to married sister Lizzie in Illinois. Alice, a recent bride now living on a small farm in Iowa, begins the correspondence as husband Charlie is about to go to fight Johnny Reb. She is also a quilter who delights in piecing fabric together and making squares: each chapter is framed with a commentary on quilting, which adds to the folksiness, but, since quilts by now have become feminist icons, they also add a discordant contemporary note. Alice, who has just fallen pregnant, is left to help taciturn and critical Mother Bullock run the farm. Alice soon miscarries but is somewhat cheered by getting together with neighboring women to make quilts for the soldiers. Life gets tougher, though, as the war continues: Charlie is taken prisoner, money is tight, and Alice is pursued by a malevolent Southern sympathizer, Samuel Smead, who tries to rape her. But Mother Bullock warms up to Alice and defends her when she’s accused of murdering the unpleasant Smead, whose decaying body is found near their farmhouse. Alice also describes her relations with the local women (whose friendships are not always dependable); Mother Bullock’s terminal breast cancer; and the difficulty of farming without a man’s help. Her advice to Lizzie, though, who has problems with her husband, and her observations on sex and birth control, often sound more like the stuff of the 21st century, as opposed to the 19th. The war eventually ends, as do the letters, and Alice, weary but proud, is ready for a new future and new quilting experiences.
A slender tale of surviving without men that haphazardly stitches together the fabric of some women’s lives.