Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: Prayers for Sale

Sandra Dallas is an author I am thrilled to have discovered a few years ago. Alice's Tulips was my first Dallas novel, and I absolutely loved last year's Tallgrass, a story of one girl's experiences in a Japanese-American internment camp. The Diary of Mattie Spenser and New Mercies were also very enjoyable reads. There are a few Sandra Dallas novels I've yet to read; you can check them out here on Sandra's webpage.

I noticed as I was perusing Sandra's website above that novelist Jane Smiley (a former professor of mine at Iowa State University) calls Sandra "a quintessential American voice." That's what I love about Sandra Dallas: she slips in well-researched American history lesson with a really good story. I know, I know: it's a particular grievance to many historians that novels are looked upon by some readers as "history"; however, I maintain that a good novel, with accurate historic details, can often teach history more effectively than a dry textbook.

The history lesson in Prayers for Sale involves an isolated mining community in the mountains of Colorado in the late 1800s until 1936, when the primary story takes place. Hettie, who has lived in is in her late 80s, has lived in Middle Swan most of her life. Nit Spindle is a lonely new bride, who has come with her husband from Kentucky for a job. The two strike up a beautiful friendship. Hettie is a natural storyteller, and Nit is an appreciative listener. Hettie has lots of stories to tell that involve the people in Middle Swan and their history.

One of the things I loved about this novel is that it is so gratifying. If Hettie begins telling a story about someone, she finishes. In the vein of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, the reader gets a solid story of a resident of Middle Swan: his or her past life, what brought him to Middle Swan, and how s/he ended up. I love things all neatly tied up like that.

While telling the stories of the residents of Middle Swan, Hettie reveals to Nit her own life, with its tragedies and joys. For the first time in her adult life, Hettie tells her own story to someone and trusts that Nit will take her place as the storyteller for Middle Swan.

I look forward to seeing what Sandra Dallas will be writing next!

* Thanks to Wiley from @uthors on the Web again for inviting me to review this novel. You may want to out these other blogs for more reviews:
August 24: http://www.fiveminutesforbooks.com
August 25: http://www.abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com/
August 25: http://www.lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
August 26: http://www.lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
August 27: http://www.rebelhousewife.com/
August 28: http://www.stephaniesbooks.blogspot.com/
September 9: http://blog.mawbooks.com/


Marbel said...

Hm, not sure if I should thank you or not for giving me another book to add to my list.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that well-written fiction can teach history better than a boring textbook.

I'm going to the library today, so...

crochet lady said...

I've read quite a few of Sandra's books. Loved Prayers for sale, also really enjoyed The Persian Pickle Club and Alice's Tulips.

Heather VanTimmeren said...

I read this book a few months ago and enjoyed it also, for many of the same reasons you listed. My TBR list is so long already, but I may try to read more of Sandra Dallas someday. Thanks for the links to your other reviews.

Laughing Stars said...

This looks terrific ... I am sold!

Sherry said...

I've never even heard of this author, but the book sounds like something I might like. I'm quite fond of well-written historical fiction.

Eva said...

I love finding favourite authors! I don't read a ton of American lit, but this sounds interesting. Especially since I live in Colorado. :)

Petunia said...

I listened to the audiobook during a long drive and loved it so much I went right out and bought another Sandra Dallas novel, The Persian Pickle Club. As a quilter I am drawn to books involving quilting and the community it builds.