Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For by Brenda K. Marshall
Release date: 2010 / 473 pages
Synopsis (from jacket cover): The lives and schemes of frontier politicians, Northern Pacific Railroad executives, bonanza farmers and homesteaders converge in the story of Frances Houghton Bingham. Emotionally complex, willful and resourceful, Fances is seduced by the myths of opportunity driving teh settlement of Dakota Territory, and dares to dream of a new world in which to realize her unconventional desires.
First sentence: You will say that I am making this up, as if it were a small matter to invent truth.
Review: When the publisher contacted me about reading and reviewing Dakota, I fortunately did not ask about the length because accepting a 473 page book days before Thanksgiving would not have happened. However, Dakota was worth the investment of time and would be a delightful choice for any book club interested in historical fiction, pioneer epics, how the role of women has changed throughout the founding of our country, or rich, character-based narratives.
Dakota embraces the spirit of My Antonia, but provides much more background about the development of the Dakota territory just prior to statehood. Marshall brings to life a host of characters — from the fiercely independent Frances to her sodden, hopeless husband and his demure, lovely sister; from their bombastic, ambitious father to the Scandinavian immigrant Kiersten. Marshall is able to give each fully-realized character language unique and consistent to his or her personality and spirit. After the first few chapters, a reader could open any page and immediately know which character was speaking.
In addition to the rich characterization, the untamed land of Dakota is vividly created: wind-swept landscapes, ambivalent rivers, brutal winters, and golden prairies. The Dakotas are not a land for the faint of heart, as I know from living in Minnesota for twenty years. But The Black Hills and Badlands are stunningly beautiful, even at their most formidible.
I do recommend this epic. I have stated before that I believe few works of literature should demand more than 5-6 hours of a reader’s time and stand firm in this conviction. I would have cut 50 – 100 pages of the political history, but this is my own subjective wish. Many will embrace this aspect as firmly as the character studies and often this is the aspect that sparks the best discussion.
Interested in winning a copy? Please leave me a comment and I will choose a winner by the weekend!