Sun Going Down
This Western saga begins in 1863 when Eb Paint, sick of war, sells his Mississippi River supply boat and lights out for the Dakota Territory to take advantage of free land. He marries a twice-widowed woman who is part Lakota, so their twin boys, Eli and Ezra, are raised to be sympathetic to the Native Americans. Ezra never marries, putting in spells of scouting for the Army and cattle-driving, while Eli and his family settle down to ranch in Nebraska. The story then follows Eli’s daughter Velma, who gets herself “in trouble” with one of the ranch hands, and is exiled from the family. Her trials include a stay in a TB sanitarium, and a second marriage to an alcoholic, before her fate brings the saga to a close in the 1930s.
In his author’s note, Todd states that the title refers to two sunsets, that of the Native Americans as settlers invade the Plains, and the more modern one, in which agribusiness and Walmartization have erased the Western way of life. He drew on family memoirs for the plot, basing Velma’s character on his grandmother. There are moments of happiness, yet Todd doesn’t gloss over the many kinds of pain and suffering settlers of a new country endure. Each generation of the Paint family produces characters the reader will care about. The one thing I objected to was the author’s use of dashes to begin a line of dialogue, instead of the standard quotation marks. But as that seems to be the fashion these days, I suppose I’m an old fuddy duddy for grumbling about it. The story was engrossing, nevertheless.