For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 10, Prairie Songs by Pam Conrad
Few people would argue that it took strong, stout, and brave people to settle in the American midwest. Native Americans understood the harshness of the land and seasons, and young pioneer Louisa loves the miles of grasslands and open skies in the only home she’s ever known. But vast spaces are not for everyone, most particularly for the new arrivals in Louisa’s world: a doctor from New York City and his wife, elegant and mercurial Emmeline. For a while, Emmeline brings exciting changes to Louisa’s life. She gives Louisa and her shy little brother Lester reading lessons. She introduces Louisa to poetry. Louisa can’t help but compare her own mother to Emmeline, and for the first time, she sees her mother as a woman: hearty and warm, but also as wrinkled and worn as a walnut. Momma is also insightful, and it is she who recognizes that Emmeline’s quick-changing moods are more than a temperamental nature. As the harsh winter descends, Emmeline falls first into depression, and then into despair, and finally into madness, and neither Louisa nor Momma nor her doctor husband can help Emmeline.
Why is Prairie Songs a good read for women? As in her other Nebraska book, My Daniel, Pam Conrad’s descriptions are both lovely and harshly illuminating. Pioneer life is often romanticized, and the relentless hard work women performed each day just to feed and clothe their families minimized. Conrad explores the isolation prairie women suffered to the extreme in Emmeline, but her story is tragic and unforgettable.
NOTE: This book was published in 1985. Pam Conrad died of breast cancer in in 1996, at age 48. Reading this and her other stories and poems will keep her work and memory alive.