Sweet Grass

Written by Dee Marvine
Review by Ellen Keith

In 1886, an unmarried woman was not entirely welcome when her widowed father took a new wife, or so Lili Tornquist felt. When her distant cousin Gunnar Jorgeson from Montana offers her marriage, she sees her opportunity for a home of her own and perhaps love. Unfortunately, Gunnar is a moody, secretive man who can only offer her a home, not the love and companionship she craves. Making her way to Butte, Montana, she finds herself courted by two men, miner and union organizer Tom Hawes and lawyer Charles Weatherby, who works for the owner of the mine. Lili’s employment options are limited, and she is forced to take a job as a singer in a bawdy house, much to the dismay of her suitors.

Marvine is more successful at a sense of place rather than characters, capturing the unfinished and raw character of the West as well as the unsafe mining conditions and rapaciousness of mine owners. Mine owner A.W. Harmond is made out to be a sexual predator as well as a ruthless businessman so the reader should not miss the point that this is a “bad man.” Other characters are drawn in with equally broad strokes. Lili is Swedish, so she says “ya” a lot. Daphne, who hires her as a singer, has the proverbial heart of gold, and everything is resolved so neatly at the end that I expected the book to have a big bow around it.