San Francisco, 1906. The city collapses in earthquake. William and Emma Denny lose everything. Brother and sister board a train to Ridgeville, Missouri, their childhood home. It is a place of sorrow and fearful memories.
It had been over forty years since William and Emma left Missouri. They’d fled for their lives from dangers they never fully understood, although the memories of being packed onto a train to San Francisco, alone, to find an aunt they did not know, remained with them. As they stood at their mother’s grave, Anna’s grave, the need to understand the horror that drove them away led them to read letters and journals saved for them by the family’s friend, Estill Northington.
And so Anna’s story is told, and it’s not an easy one to hear. Orphaned as a child, Anna marries Charles Denny when she is but sixteen. She is widowed at twenty-five, left with two small children and a large prosperous farm. Charles’s death was only the beginning of Anna’s troubles. At one point she defends her household against Civil War deserters bent on rape and plunder. Then, too soon, she enters into a relationship with a young doctor, Joshua Hurt. Tragedy quickly follows, accompanied by such acute danger that her children’s lives hang on a thread. Anna sends them literally running from the house – to Estill who is trusted to see them safely away.
This is a harsh story with graphic scenes of physical and sexual brutality. They are part of the tale Anna’s wants her children to understand. The novel is not only about the tragedy of Anna’s life, though; it’s also about the strength, compassion, loyalty, and love of the people in her life, and this softens and balances the pervasive darkness of Anna’s Wish.