The Key on the Quilt
“If it wasn’t for the occasional night when he tried to kill her,” this novel begins, “Owen wouldn’t be a bad husband.” Alas, Owen does try to kill her, and Jane Prescott, the heroine of this charming novel, winds up in the state penitentiary.
There, in the company of other despairing and downbeaten women, Jane learns to keep faith and keep trying, even in these bleak circumstances, and discovers what Whitman calls “grace notes” – the moments of beauty and peace that occur in the most desperate lives. She’s lost her daughter and her freedom, but she still has her skill with a needle, and slowly she regains her trust in people. How she wins a free, new life makes for a moving and well-made story.
Whitman knows her Nebraska countryside; the few tantalizing glimpses she gives of the thunderstorms and the sweeping prairies in the late 19th century left this reader wanting more. The details of quilts – the great home-craft of the pioneer woman – are especially satisfying. This is the kind of book that’s exciting and reassuring at the same time: you know nothing bad is going to happen to these people, but it’s fun to see them triumph.