DUST OF THE EARTH by Vera & Bill Cleaver


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Another gutsy Cleaver superheroine grits her teeth and bulldozes through, this time on a harsh South Dakota sheep farm her contentious, down-and-out family inherits. Fern Drawn, fourteen, determines to leave school and tend the sheep (because ""We need,"" she tells her father); after a while her brother quits too and joins her, and when their father is fired from his bank clerk job he too becomes a full time farmer. There are losses and illness, poverty, fierce storms, and a new baby, and the net effect of it all is to make a close, cooperating family of the formerly unloving Drawns. Fern tells the story and her colloquial speech has that sort of pungent but oddly formal measure that is a Cleaver trademark; she can bring you up short with her offhand assessments--brother Hobson ""was that kind of person always a little on the tormented side of life for one reason or another"" and baby George ""was a smart little tyke, especially when roused to boredom""--and only occasionally does she become tendentious as during the difficult delivery of their first new lamb: ""Birth, I thought. Mothers oppose their own lives to it."" She does however rather belabor the parallels with Western legend--especially in light of this literary theme's far and wide exploitation. Nor has the knitting together of the Drawns quite the sting of other Cleaver trials. However, Fern herself is as irresistible a storyteller as the rest of them, and by no means bereft of surprises.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1975
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Lippincott