Mari: A Novel

Jane Valentine Barker, Author
Jane Valentine Barker, Author University Press of Colorado $19.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-87081-452-5
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The second title in the University Press of Colorado's ""Women's Series,"" this tepid fictionalized biography chronicles the life of Mari Sandoz (1866-1966) and the tremendous obstacles she faced before she became one of the earliest and most prolific women writers of the Pioneer West. Born in Nebraska in 1896, she was the oldest child of Swiss immigrants. Her father, an agronomist famous for the varieties of orchards he developed, was brutally violent and emotionally abusive to Mari and her mother. Barker shows Mari's relationship with her father as a series of individual conflicts, especially in his active discouragement of her writing talent. She also depicts the wild elements of frontier life, including blizzards and prairie fires and the overwhelming sense of isolation that eventually drives Mari into an unhappy marriage. What this novel fails to capture, unfortunately, is the undoubtedly rich terrain of Mari's emotional life. Barker repeatedly tells us about Mari's dream of becoming a writer, but her detached, reportorial style flattens the passion and originality that enabled Sandoz to write with loving detail about the Western landscape, and with respect for Native Americans long before it was in vogue to do so. This surface view of Sandoz's life does not convey the essence of its intrepid protagonist. (Sept.)
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