Sunday, August 9, 2015

Prayers for Sale: Book Review

14 April 2009.
Living in a mining town in the Rocky Mountains above Denver isn't easy for the men combing through dirt and mud in an effort to get rich.

Life isn't much better for the women who join them.

By mixing historical facts with her imagination, Sandra Dallas builds something that is simultaneously hearty and beautiful in her 2009 novel Prayers for Sale.

I very much enjoyed getting to learn more about the people who lived in the area of Breckenridge, Colorado between the Civil War and the Great Depression.

This novel, however, is much more than a history lesson about Colorado mining towns. It's a celebration of resilience by learning how to live off the land, develop personal character, maintain female friendship and tap into the power of storytelling. 

Dallas shows us decades of rough living through the eyes of 86-year-old Hennie Comfort.  The value of Hennie's know how is immediately apparent when 17-year-old Nit Spindle arrives from the South with her husband in Middle Swan.  Nit knows very little about running a household at a high elevation and without the resources available in a conventional town. Hennie quickly takes Nit under her wing, teacher her how to prepare for the harsh winters.

From the very beginning, Dallas uses quilting as an activity that brings women together and expresses their individuality and their situations.  Sometimes the metaphor gets a little overbearing, but I was delighted nonetheless.  My mother, my mother-in-law and my grandmothers all quilt. Hennie's explanation of the power and purpose of quilting helped me gain a better appreciation for my relatives' skill.

Some might see little-to-no connection among the stories that Hennie tells Nit.  I see a common thread. Hennie is passing on lore that will help Nit learn the local history and learn how to avoid the harsh consequences of unwise behavior that others have faced.  Some of these stories will most likely prove to be life savers.

The stories describe miners, mining company owners, saloon girls, swindlers, soldiers, miner's wives and children.  Some of the stories are funny, some are tragic. They each offer Nit insight on how to manage her house, her marriage and her character.

By telling her stories, Hennie leaves little pieces of her own hardships and triumphs within Nit's memory.  Hennie's stories will have a longer life than the quilts she has so lovingly made over the decades.

I very much enjoyed reading a novel where the protagonist was an octogenarian woman.  If I am to grow up to be a wise, older woman, I need more literary role models. Hennie is a wonderful example of how to be productive, positive and nurturing well into late life.


Novels about Ripeness

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