Strength of Stone: The Pioneer Journal of Electa Bryan Plumer, 1862-1864

Written by Diane Elliott
Review by Sue Asher

Diane Elliott uses the time-honored device of a fictional diary to give voice to Electa Bryan, a 20-year-old schoolteacher turned pioneer. Shunning “a life of child-rearing, church, and no end to hard labor”, Electa sets off for Idaho territory in search of adventure. She finds it in William Plumer, a handsome charmer whose shady past–which he relates over successive evenings and she dutifully records in her journal–does not deter her from falling in love.

Electa describes day-to-day events in scrupulous detail, providing satisfying pictures of life on a luxury steamer, on a Government Farm for the Indians which the Indians have deserted, and in a mining boomtown. She includes snippets from conversations, newspapers, and letters to tell about Indian uprisings, local politics, and the progress of the Civil War. However, being a young unmarried woman, her focus is often the men in her sphere and their flaws. Her superior tone changes when Plumer appears.

The narrative voice successfully combines innocence and wisdom to create a sympathetic protagonist. However, filtering the story through journal entries and letters imposes an emotional distance between the reader and the characters. All the action takes place off-stage, with the possible exception of the final scene, a climax hard to envision Electa experiencing with pen in hand.

Despite these minor complaints, the story is beautifully written and the voice is strong. It is never dull, and concern for Electa–married to a man who attracts (or possibly provokes) trouble–provides motivation to read to the end.