"The Quickening" by Michelle Hoover (Other Press, 215 pages, $14.95 paper)
In our air-conditioned houses, with plumbing and electricity, in our cities with next-door neighbors and supermarkets and doctors, we tend to wax romantic about little houses on the prairie and life on the farm. "The Quickening" presents a much more realistic picture.
Inspired by her great-grandmother's short written recollection of her life on an Iowa farm, Michelle Hoover has written a novel of the prairie, of farm life and the connection, for better or for worse, between two women.
The narration alternates between the two acquaintances, neighbors on the stark, unforgiving prairie. Neither is particularly sympathetic, though readers will likely empathize more with Enidina.
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Big, strong, stoic Enidina has a suspicious nature, but often has reason to withhold trust. She and her husband, Frank, work hard, sometimes to no avail, and endure several miscarriages until they finally have twins. Artless and reactive, Enidina accepts her lot in life and does what she can.
The closest thing Enidina has to a friend is Mary, simply by virtue of proximity. Dramatic, self-centered Mary insinuates herself into Frank and Enidina's lives, more so than they probably would like. Her hot-tempered husband and house full of sons also stand in contrast to Enidina and Frank's calmer lives. Unpleasantness in her past is hinted at, which helps explain her deceptive nature —deceptive even to the point of deceiving herself.
"The Quickening" isn't really plot-driven, as most of the events are described in chunks spread out over about 25 years. But in spare, cutting prose, it paints a bleak picture of accidents and death, sickness and struggle, greed and betrayal, one that will banish any romantic notions of prairie life.
If you go
Michelle Hoover book-signing
What: Reading and book-signing by Michelle Hoover, author of "The Quickening." Other Press will donate $1 to Farm Aid for each copy of "The Quickening" sold during the Midwest portion of Hoover's tour.
Where: Watermark Books, 4701 E. Douglas
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
How much: Free
For more information, call 316-682-1181.