Whispers Through the House
In this companion to her novel The Long Journey Home, Means revisits the Minnesota prairies during the post-Civil War era of pioneer settlement. Lucy Dubois has just lost her husband to an accident, and her sole consolation is that she is pregnant with his child. Pioneer life is never easy, and it’s even more difficult as a widow with several children. Though she has a close-knit community to support her, Lucy worries about being burdensome to others, and tries to fend for herself as best as she can. She dreams of remarrying, and is in love with her neighbor, Mattias, but cannot find a way to let him know about her feelings.
Lucy’s life is harsh, and she falls victim to a variety of serious events, including a fire that destroys part of her home and a flood that ruins one of her fields. The plot often jumps from tragic event to tragic event with little relief, and this grim realism makes Whispers Through the House somewhat difficult to read at times. There are also a lot of characters, and it is sometimes difficult to determine how the characters are related to one another. Although the number of characters reminds readers that community was the key to survival, there are times when it seems like a tighter focus on Lucy’s inner circle would improve the novel.
Novels of this era are a rarity, which is surprising given how much the “pioneer spirit” is a part of the American mythos. Means’s knowledge of the time and setting is extensive, and the novel is infused with detail without getting bogged down in exposition. It would not surprise me if Means revisits this family in the future, and I’d be interested in seeing where their story goes.