Monday, July 18, 2011

The Last Letter by Kathleen Shoop

This is one of those rare books I couldn't wait to get back to each time I had to take a break from reading. The Last Letter intertwines one year in the prairie with the slow revelation of the truth 17 years later as a daughter discovers letters that her dying mother has kept hidden. Jeanie Arthur is a proud woman who has been forced to abandon a successful and comfortable life in Des Moines in 1887 to start over in the Dakotas. Unfortunately, her husband Frank is more of a dreamer than a doer and Jeanie's frustrations mount as he repeatedly fails to be the reliable foundation that she so much needs in an unforgiving environment. The tragedies that afflict this family are palpable and time and again Jeanie's intuition reveals what her logic defies.

The characters are vividly drawn, each in their own way. Even as Jeanie struggles with the circumstances that befall them, it's easy to understand the conflict she feels: wanting to keep her family together despite Frank's shortcomings. In the midst of this turmoil, Jeanie does whatever is necessary to protect her children - and that becomes the very thing that unravels her daughter Katherine's love for her.

The Last Letter is about far more than pioneers hewing a life out of a savage land; it is about weighing mores against the yearnings of the heart, about enduring against relentless tragedy, and about pride vs. truth. This is one of the most compelling historicals I've read in quite some time. I won't soon forget it.

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