The Land Was Ours: A Novel of the Great Plains

Charles W. Bailey, Author HarperCollins Publishers $21.95 (386p) ISBN 978-0-06-039128-7
In his first solo fiction venture (he coauthored Seven Days in May and other novels with Fletcher Knebel), Bailey evokes the lives of an American family whose destiny is in large part determined by the implacable forces of nature. In 1873 the homesteading Woods family had been forced to move from farm to town in the Dakota territory. Their son, Dan Woods, who is to have a distinguished career as a newsman, never forgets the plight of the struggling farmer or the numbing isolation endured by his parents and siblings through plagues of grasshoppers, searing drought and bitter blizzards, their devastation compounded by avalanching debt. Following their fortunes through several generations, we view the parallel development of 19th-century-style American democracy and the political force of the farmer. Dan Wood's political savvy evolves during almost seven decades; these were years that call forth the Farmers' Alliance, populism and the farm programs of the FDR administration. Bailey is an adept chronicler of the social and intellectual history and of the American heartland. Where it is enhanced by appearances by prominent political figures--Teddy Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, Mark Hanna--the novel is expansive and informative. Less than satisfying are the largely one-dimensional fictional characters, whose dialogue and inner thoughts (the latter distractingly conveyed in italics) are often flat and colorless. Though the novel fails to develop momentum, it does do justice to the history of the Plains. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/04/1991
Release date: 02/01/1991
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