Beneath the Bending Skies

Written by Jane Kirkpatrick
Review by Beth Kanell

Mollie Sheehan, daughter of an aggressive Irish settler and entrepreneur, finds life in 1860s Montana adventurous and rewarding—when her father is away on his trips to fetch supplies and open other stores. But when he’s home, she’s hemmed in by his demands that she put his wishes first, obeying the Fourth Commandment, which in the Catholic Bible is to honor your father (and mother, although Molly’s mother died when she was six and she abruptly learns she has a new stepmother—and sibling!). Her father’s wishes even compel her to give up true love and marriage when she’s found her soulmate.

But with support from all the women in her life, including nuns during a time when she lives in California, and with much prayer, Molly stays true to Peter Ronan and outlasts her father’s control of her life—she does not have his blessing, but at last he allows her to leave home. The book then follows Molly and Peter through their adventures as parents and in running a government agency, when Peter becomes the “Agent for the Flatheads and Confederated Tribes.” Molly welcomes the Native peoples into her home with the greeting, “What does your heart desire?”—a greeting she also associates with Christian scripture. Eventually the growing family is well embraced by the neighbors of many tribes.

Kirkpatrick’s historical fiction is a retelling of extensive journal material written by Margaret “Molly” Sheehan Ronan, supported by considerable research in the West. This has the drawback of tilting her pace and plotting awkwardly at times, but the huge advantage of authenticity, including for the heavily Christian slant, ending up as “creative nonfiction” in the current sense.