In Juniper Blue, the sequel to Small Rocks Rising, Susan Lang continues the story of Ruth Farley, a young, lovely but combatively independent woman who homesteads on the edge of the Mojave Desert during the Great Depression. Having been raped by her husband’s murderer, Ruth gives birth to twins. One, undeniably, is the son of her lover; the other, undeniably, the daughter of her rapist. Isolating herself from the gossip of the nearby town, she raises her infants and scrapes a living from the land. Yet this existence doesn’t deter her – indeed, she revels in it. Ruth prefers life as a hermit. She even refers to her pregnancy as an “occupation,” and, later, she calls her children and her lover “three intruders into her life.” Indeed, whenever she ventures beyond her homestead, disaster strikes. She drinks too much, gives over to sexual impulses, has emotionally devastating interactions with her cruel mother, and, ultimately, is gravely injured. Only at home, or at a nearby valley learning the ways of the native people, does Ruth find peace.
Susan Lang has created a hard character to love. Ruth Farley is bristly, impulsive, confused, passionate and stubborn – and a perfect character for the harshness of the desert and the difficulties of the era. Ruth puzzles at the world’s changes – roads are paved, electric lines go up, a frontier movie town gets built smack in the middle of a valley – while she insists on living in the old, self-sustaining way. In fact, although Ruth has several lovers, she only has one true love: her land. Which makes Juniper Blue a very unusual, and touching, love story.