This late-19th-century life story of an enigmatic girl raised in a log cabin in the Canadian wilderness is a stirring debut for Ware.
The novel opens with a death. Prostrated by pneumonia, Martha lies on the kitchen table of the family’s remote Southern Alberta home, gasping her final breaths. As peace comes to her, she sees her life’s highlights—growing up in Massachusetts, travelling west in a covered wagon with her husband, John, building their cabin in an open meadow, and having children. A darkness descends over 5-year-old Beth as her mother passes away. She retreats into herself and takes to straying alone into the forest. Despite the perils of venturing unaccompanied, it is here she finds the strength to re-engage with life after encountering the apparition of a benevolent woman in white. Growing older, she feels an increasing connection to the spiritual world. Her brother, Jeremiah, educates her in the writings of Whitman, Emerson, and Thoreau, but she experiences an even more profound personal bond to the cosmos in dreams, visions. Throughout, she’s aided by a spiritual guide she calls Chief. It’s Chief who consoles her when she runs away after her father promises her to Abe Moen, deciding that a young woman needs a more fulfilling life than living with her “Pa and bachelor brother.” With Chief’s assurance, she joins Abe’s family at their homestead just outside Rosend, marries, and gives birth to a son, Joshua. But what appears to be the beginning of a blissful life becomes wracked with uncertainty when drought comes to the family farm and Beth learns that she can no longer have children.
The book is a moving bildungsroman, the story of a woman conquering her childhood fears and learning to overcome daily struggle by gaining a sense of place in the universe. Beth develops into a seerlike figure, possessing from a young age the ability to step outside herself. Ware’s prose lucidly captures this shift in cosmic consciousness: “As an objective bystander, she hovered and surveyed the situation intently. She began to realize that the people down there were so caught up in the emotion of the moment, the panic or pressure of the moment, that they hadn’t thought to look up to see where they were going.” Ware skillfully builds two distinct worlds within the novel, the first being the natural environment that seems to wrap around Beth when she ventures beyond the safety of her cabin, animated by trickling streams, whispering breezes, and the chatter of animals. This is contrasted with Beth’s dreamscape: a nebulous place where abstract images appear and then recede to nothing. Such images may be as simple as that of a “non-physical, invisible net” that surrounds Beth, bestowing her with a sense of protection in her day-to-day life. The power of the novel lies in developing an understanding of how the tangible natural plane and incorporeal dream plane reflect and inform each another. The result is an empowering life story and a mind-expanding cosmic exploration that will particularly delight readers drawn to spirituality titles.
Astutely captures the circular nature of life with a dazzling, creative intuition.