Books People Are Talking About by Lynette

Lynette facilitates the book discussion group at the Helmerich Library. At each meeting they read books on a particular topic or books by the same author and share their opinions. Below is thenewsletter she shared with her group after their October meeting.

Sandra Dallas was an unfamiliar author to many, but her accessible novels, usually set in the American West were well received. Dallas was a journalist for Business Week, based in Denver for many years, and still resides in Colorado. She writes with the attention to detail and edited sentences of a reporter. The novels are not difficult, perhaps even predictable, but they are able to take you right back in memory to a grandmother’s kitchen or a grandfather’s homespun wisdom. Several readers commented on her ear for the way ordinary people talked, and the unique verbal expressions many of us remember. Dallas clearly admires the landscape and people of the West, but her characters are not caricatures, nor are they overly sentimental. They are homey, often with a strong moral core, and an appealing theme of confronting difficult circumstances with common sense and decency, and sometimes even heroism.

One of her best known novels, THE PERSIAN PICKLE CLUB , tells the story of Queenie Bean and the friendships and support found among the women of her quilting club in Harveyville, Kansas in the ‘30’s. The themes of interdependent community and friendship appear often in Dallas’ work, providing her characters with the strength and support they need in the harsh and lonely vastness of the West. Quilting is a recurring activity and metaphor for her communities—a variety of people and families relying on each other, often gossipy or narrow minded, but ultimately stitched into a whole. THE DIARY OF MATTIE SPENSER follows a newly married couple from Iowa to their new homestead in Colorado where Mattie finds “too much sky.” One of our readers found this a genuinely moving story, perhaps because Dallas based it on a journal kept by her own mother. The young bride of ALICE’S TULIPS is left on her husband’s farm in Iowa while he fights in the Civil War, and finds herself accused of murder.

Humorous and sassy, the group’s favorite novel was THE CHILI QUEEN, a Spur Award winner. The friendship that develops on a train ride to New Mexico between worldly wise Addie and a young mail order bride, Emma, serves them both wellthrough several twists and turns of plot.

NEW MERCIES changes scenery to Natchez, Mississippi where outsider Nora Bondurant arrives in 1933 to take possession of her inheritance, a crumbling plantation house full of secrets. A similar theme of community insiders and outsiders is also explored in TALLGRASS, another favorite of our readers. The outsiders in this case are the Japanese-Americans interned in a “relocation” camp just outside of the small town of Ellis, Colorado in 1942. Ms. Dallas learned about the Amache Camp near Granada in far southeastern Colorado, and decided to write a story from the point of view of a precocious and observant 14-year old local farm girl named Rennie. Tensions between the townsfolk and the camp internees increase after an unsolved murder. The suspicion and prejudice toward “outsiders,” exacerbated during wartime remains a timely topic. See also a book of compelling photographs, IMPOUNDED: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment (eds. Linda Gordon and Gary Okihiro).

PRAYERS FOR SALE recounts life in the harsh conditions of a mountain mining town during the Depression and the bond between 86-year old Hennie and the lonely 17 year old Nit. Dallas’ latest novel, WHITER THAN SNOW follows the effects of a deadly avalanche in the lives of the grieving families in the small mountain community of Swandyke.

Sandra Dallas is also the author of the nonfiction book THE QUILT THAT WALKED TO GOLDEN: Women and Quilts in the Mountain West that was highly recommended by one of our readers.

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