Augusta Locke feels like a novel in two parts. Augusta (“Gussie”) is born to a Minnesota trapper in 1903, a wild creature who looks nothing like her parents. After a confrontation with her father, Gussie and her mother are abandoned. The two women move west to Greeley, Colorado, where Gussie’s mother attracts a new husband. Unable to fit into the new lifestyle expected of her, Gussie runs away and has an encounter with Jack Fisher, a young soldier headed off to war. Gussie finds her way to work on a Wyoming road crew, disguised as a boy, but after a short time, she discovers she is pregnant, and has a daughter, Anne. She becomes a supply runner, taking Anne on the road with her, but eventually, she loses Anne to the wider world. After decades, Gussie settles down alone and reconnects with Jack, her grandson, and great-granddaughter.
Nearly three-quarters of the novel are concerned with the time from Gussie’s childhood through Anne’s girlhood. Time flows slowly, and Henderson does a wonderful job recreating a sense of the loneliness in both Gussie and the breathtaking landscapes. The reader can see Wyoming, Colorado, and Minnesota through Henderson’s prose. A large amount of time is devoted to fascinating supporting characters (like Mrs. Shayd, who covets baby Anne), and the reader gets to follow Gussie as she views everything in dazzling detail: a new dress, storms, birds, roads. As Anne becomes an adolescent and runs off, the book speeds up and encompasses roughly sixty years that zoom by in a blur. Events seem rushed, like the author ran out of patience. Many of the episodes are still engaging, but the change in pace is jarring. I am sad to think what more could have been told in those sixty years.