Impatient with Desire

Gabrielle Burton, Author . Hyperion/Voice $22.99 (247p) ISBN 978-1-4013-4101-5

The story of the Donner Party is sketchily retold in Burton's new novel, which reimagines the tragedy through the eyes of Tamsen Donner, 45-year-old wife of George Donner, the leader of the party that, in 1846, set out from Springfield, Ill., for California and wound up snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the winter. In journal entries and letters to her sister, Tamsen dutifully recounts her early life in Massachusetts, Donner's courtship, their decision to move to California, and the blunders that ate up time and trapped their party for four months in the mountain snow, where Tamsen proves to be a pillar of strength for her injured husband, their family, and the other families depending upon them for survival. The narrative builds to what readers will be most curious about: how did the cannibalism come about? The answer is supplied by Tamsen in a matter-of-fact way that is in keeping with the other horrors she describes. In the end, the narrative's feminist trappings feel forced, and the result is a novel that only fitfully fulfils its goal of dramatizing the famous events from a new point of view. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 11/16/2009
Release date: 03/01/2010
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FORMATS
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-1-4013-4166-4
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4013-9501-8
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