Prairie Fever

Written by Michael Parker
Review by Bryan Dumas

Set between the wars, Elise Stewart is a fifteen-year-old dreamer living on the rough Oklahoma prairie with her down-to-earth sister Lorena, 17, who is ready to head out for life beyond Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, but still finds one thing that might keep her home. That one thing is Gus McQueen, the new schoolteacher, who is only a few years older than Lorena. But for now, Lorena and Elise share everything: a cot on cold nights in their attic room, make-believe games and skits, a fondness for the local news, and a sisterly bond that should have survived anything.

But when Elise skips school and rides off in a blizzard on Sandy—her horse of mystical powers (he routinely makes secret visits to the seashore)—she puts not only her own life in jeopardy but also those of Gus and Lorena. When they find her, near death, in the snow, Elise will realize later that that was the moment “Lorena had chosen Gus over her sister, with whom she had shared a skin and sky.” Eventually, Gus comes to his own revelation, and instead of marrying Lorena, he marries Elise.

Parker explores the fragile bonds that hold sisters together in the second half of this lyrical and meditative character examination. Through letters written by Elise to Lorena by way of Sandy (long dead), and Lorena to Elise, by way of former schoolmate Edith Gotswegon, readers are brought into the internal struggles of their attempts at reconciliation. There are moments of genuine tenderness and wit (Lorena’s snarky note that “unlike some others… who write cryptic letters to deceased livestock” and Elise’s general outlook on life, which many considered a bit “off”). A slow-burning beginning may have some shutting the book, but patience is rewarded.