Between Earth and Sky

Karen Osborn, Author
Karen Osborn, Author William Morrow & Company $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-688-14123-3
Ebook - 100 pages - 978-0-06-226252-3
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In a voice well matched to the simplicity of the book's epistolary format, Abigail Conklin, heading west in a wagon train with her husband and children, writes to her beloved sister Maggie, back home in post-Civil War Virginia. Chronicling a courageous life, the letters span six decades, from 1867 to 1930, when Abigail dies in New Mexico, her home for all those years and the scene of her hopes, challenges, disappointments and tragedies. Osborn (Patchwork) limns a harrowing picture of the dangers of the trek west, the primitive conditions and unremitting physical labor and the constant anxiety over daily dangers--from Indians, the weather and other natural phenomena. Over the years, Abigail almost loses her husband, has a (too convenient) brush with romance, suffers the death of two children and the emotional or physical estrangement of three others--all episodes related with a restraint that does not diminish their emotional impact. Abigail's solace is the desert landscape, which she grows to love and endeavors to sketch and paint. The heightened awareness of Abigail's painterly eye gives Osborn an opportunity luminously to describe the Southwest in all times of day and season. Nicely integrated into the narrative are historical milestones, details of 19th-century domesticity, social issues (the opposition of the Catholic Church to Protestant mission schools; the prejudice that makes Abigail a pariah when she chooses to raise her daughter's half-Mexican child). There is a certain formulaic inertia in Abigail's inability (with one exception) to leave the ranch and visit her family, and in her sister's reluctance to travel in turn. Yet Abigail is a well-developed character; strong-willed, stubborn and brave, she finds that``grief has grown next to contentment in my life.'' (Feb.)
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