The Rim of the Prairie

The Rim of the Prairie, 1925, by Bess Streeter Aldrich

When a writer has a philosophy like Bess Streeter Aldrich’s, I know I’m in good company.

And when Jodi said that The Rim of the Prairie was her favorite of Aldrich’s books, I knew that I was in for a treat.

I want to begin this review by saying that one of the things I love best about Bess Streeter Aldrich is the very thing I love in so many of my favorite writers, namely, a sense of place so evocative, so intimate and alive that you as the reader are literally present in the story, every sense awake to the beauties and charms and idiosyncrasies of the setting. Elizabeth Goudge gave me the cobbles and cathedrals and gardens and houses of England; Prince Edward Island is Lucy Maud Montgomery’s lavish bestowal which I will be honored to carry with me all the days of my life. Daphne DuMaurier made Cornwall so vivid and touchable that when I first saw its jagged cliffs and shingle beaches and deceptively placid coves, a shiver of recognition, of revisitation, went through me and I all but cast a glance over my shoulder for a spaniel named Jasper scrabbling among the rocks behind.

And when I drove across Iowa for the first time on a still October morning just tinged with the maiden blush of dawn, I knew that I had been there before. Had seen a couple of nondescript graves covered with woodbine on a little rise of a churchyard and watched a solitary young man make his purposeful way over the golden sea of prairie grasses…

That was Song of Years, of course, my long-standing favorite of Bess’ children. And Suzanne, that idealistic companion of my youth, has always been my favorite of her characters. I was almost afraid to see her challenged by The Rim of the Prairie and this upstart of a Nancy Moore, howsoever endearing she might prove herself to be.

It hardly needs saying that Nancy won my heart, as did her story of a sweet youth ended abruptly by the rise of a dark shadow. Chic in a delightsome 1920’s way, charming, vivacious–and so winningly flawed that one can’t help but like her, it’s easy to identify with the characters she encounters, many of whom are predisposed to frown upon her teasing and her breezy ways and end up her devoted friends and admirers. Nancy is not perfect, and that’s what makes her real: that’s what makes her faults and her misplaced ambitions ring true to pitch. Jolly and designing, sunny and selfish, but altogether living and breathing and laughing–and even crying in secret.

And it’s the secrets that propel the story forward: hidden intrigues and painful questions that engather an entire community with the ‘tangled roots’ that Aldrich so evocatively describes, making of a small town a grove of trees that both beautify the wild landscape and stand as a respite and windbreak from the merciless elements. Images of cottonwoods and their growth are intertwined with the growth and interlacing of a community, where one’s standing influences another’s and the fall of a single tree could bring down an entire line.

I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to the sweet sophisticate Nancy Moore: to learn the secrets about her that she herself didn’t even know; to be assured of the outcomes of those whose lives had become irrevocably intertwined with her own. To see how that last visit to the old farm where she was raised with which the book opens influenced the rest of her life.

I am resolute in not denying your enjoyment by giving away any more of a teaser than that. But I can promise you a setting so fresh with wind rolling over the prairie gold and alive with birdsong in the cottonwoods that only love of the deepest sort could have crafted it. And a living, breathing heroine that learns what it means to ‘put away childish things’. And a supporting cast of ‘tangled roots’ from which spring all the really fine things in life.

(But Suzanne is still my favorite. ;))

This is obviously not the secret-bearing post that I promised last week. Tying up a few last details, but check back tomorrow!!

13 Responses to “The Rim of the Prairie”

  1. Jessica says:

    Sounds like I found a new author to try…thank you for sharing! And what Daphne DuMaurier book were you referencing in regards to Cornwall? That sounds like one I would love to read…

    Looking forward to tomorrow’s post… :)

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Hey, Jess–
      I was talking specifically about ‘Rebecca’–oh. my. goodness. What a fabulous book! But ‘The King’s General’ and ‘My Cousin Rachel’ were haunting the place, as well. 😉

  2. Rebekah Dickinson says:

    You are being very tantalising! Jamaica’s Inn is also very evocative if you like slightly spooky.
    Will send you that piece adjusted as suggested soon. Sorry for the delay. Must chat again soon. :-)

  3. Christie says:

    I have not heard of this one, will have to add it to my list. I have been having so much fun “introducing” Chad to some of my most beloved books from when I was a young teen. I have Beka hooked on Anne now and getting ready to have her start reading some of Jean Stratton Porter. It is funny how I get so excited giving them new books knowing they are about to embark on a wonderful journey.

  4. “Come stand by the window…” I have to admit I haven’t read the book, but “Rebecca” is one of my favorite movies. We call Mrs. Danvers “Spooky Chick” around here. I know. Terribly irreverent and not very literary, but you know David and I like a movie a lot when it gets quoted and referred to frequently around our house! :-)

  5. Jenny says:

    Enjoyed this! Glad to have found your sweet blog. Thanks to you I’ve found many new authors to keep me busy (and happy).

  6. Sharon says:

    I would have a difficult time to choose between Jamica Inn and The King’s General. Jamaica Inn is best re-read on a classically “dark and stormy night.”
    I remember the story of Abbie Deal–Lantern in her Hand? I may have read other of Bess Streeter Aldrich’s books, but it appears its time I look for them at our local library.
    Lucy Maude Montgomery has long been a favorite. When we have visited the Maritimes I simply wanted to move there and stay.

  7. Lisa says:

    Lanier,

    An evocative sense of place is one of my favorite things to discover in a book, too! I’ll put this one on my list. :)

    Your faithful reader,

    Lisa

  8. Claudia Adams says:

    A Lantern in Her Hand holds a tiny lead on Song of Years for me. Abbie Deal was such a memorable character and so much of what she did with her life and her family made a great impression on me many years ago. This passage spoke volumes to me when I first read it..”Everything looked familiar—friendly. There would never be another real home for her. Home was something besides so much lumber and plaster. You built your thoughts into the framework. You planted a little of your heart with the trees and the shrubbery. It was the only old home the children had ever known. There ought to be a home for children to come to–and their children—a central place, to which that could always bring their joys and sorrow–an old familiar place to return to on Sundays and Christmases. An old home ought always to stand like a mother with open arms. It ought to be here waiting for the children to come to it—like homing pigeons.”

    And wouldn’t Mrs. Downs have shared in the excitement of your new “old book store.” Happy Opening!!!

  9. Juli says:

    I just finished reading Rim of the Prairie after reading your appetizing review. It was all you said and I’m now looking forward to Song of the Years. Love your blog!

  10. How delightful…I picked up a copy of this book at a local book fair a while back, so I will have to add this to my “must read” list. Her book ” A Lantern In Her Hand” is one of my favorite classics.

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