June 16, 2021

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker


One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, by Olivia Hawker

4 stars: Deep, thoughtful, moving.

Cora Bemis and Nettie Mae Webber have lived as neighbors for years, out on the Wyoming frontier. Though never friends, per se, they have been decent neighbors. That is, until Cora and Substance Webber have an affair, and Ernest (that would be Cora's husband) fatally shoots Substance. 

Now Ernest is in jail, and winter is coming on. Neither household has a man to help with all the farm chores. Nettie Mae's son Clyde and Cora's daughter Beulah, both teenagers, work hard to help get ready for the long months ahead. It's a good thing, too. Nettie Mae is consumed with bitterness and anger, Cora with regret. 

 It is a bitter pill to swallow when the women realize that they will have to combine their households in order to survive the winter. It takes too much time and energy going back and forth to care for both places. Accordingly, Cora and her 4 children move in with Nettie Mae and Clyde. The animals share a barn, and all must learn to live together.

Over the long winter months, cracks begin to appear in the attitudes of the women toward each other, and in their perceptions of themselves. A new life; a different, more joyful and authentic way of moving through the world awaits, if they can just break through the prison of the past.

* * * * *

I enjoyed this one. It was heavier than what I usually read, but there were quiet moments of wonder tending toward magical realism that brought me out of the heaviness --particularly the chapters from Beulah's point of view. The tone starts out pretty bleak and depressing, but more and more hope is allowed in as the book goes on. Tense and exciting climax, and satisfying ending.

These women are in desperate straits, and they know that. Their very survival depends upon their working together, but how would it be to have to bring your worst enemy into your life so closely? Hawker's answer was compelling and kept me reading to the very end.

Content: Occasional swearing, references to the affair but not graphic descriptions, some thematic stuff--Clyde's burial of his father is written in detail, some butchering of animals. I was so relieved that the relationship between Beulah and Clyde stays innocent throughout. Thank you, Ms. Hawker for that!

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