Plain Language

Written by Barbara Wright
Review by Viviane Crystal

Virginia Mendenhall graduates from a Quaker college and proceeds to social work in Philadelphia and later an Appalachian mining town. Her life seems complete, yet her memory often wanders back to an accidental meeting with Alfred Bowen, with whom she shares a sense of adventure, challenge, and some frank communication by mail. Alfred asks her to marry him, and Virginia moves to Colorado to share the farming of a most unprofitable territory.

Three notable elements grace this novel. The first is the honest, clean description of a land that is harshly unyielding to its resident farmers yet which seems to cast a relentless spell of endurance and promise to anyone willing to forge a future through trial and determination. The second element involves character sketches that are forthright, humorous, intelligent, and fiercely proud. The love match grows and grows despite the presence of past ghosts and present misunderstandings. Virginia and Alfred are portrayed with depth and dignity. The third element that is most unusual is the graceful way other characters, family and friends, appear only after there is a sense of this newlywed couple’s evolving relationship through striving to survive the harsh reality of the Depression and to discover who they are together as well as individually. Helping a disabled relative adjust to a new lifestyle, Virginia and Alfred mature and become a dynamic presence in their new hometown, without precluding the strong Quaker background beliefs that Virginia begins to newly appreciate. Her unexpected gift will warm the coldest heart.

For a tremendous appreciation of the quarrels, compromises, and loving resolutions these hearty Westerners share, Ms. Wright deserves the highest praise. This writer continuously displays a remarkable gift of insight into people within what must be described as a beautifully crafted novel.