Molly Gloss, “The Jump-Off Creek”

I was glad to see that there’s a new edition of The Jump-Off Creek, because I read a 1989 hardcover that looked as if it had come off a dude ranch’s shelf of books left by guests.  I wouldn’t have found it if Meg hadn’t loaned me Gloss’s later The Hearts of Horses, which I adored. This is similar: smaller, with a tighter radius but similar characters.  Lydia Sanderson arrives on the Jump-Off Creek to take up a claim.  She possesses two mules, two goats, and a trunk, but the woman is one long drink of true grit. Nothing surprising here. It’s Lydia against the weather and the loneliness, with subplots about the other hard-scrabble characters who share her little valley.  But it’s vivid and generous. Gloss intersperses her narrative with excerpts from a journal in Lydia’s name, and she acknowledges the pioneer women whose journals she used as sources.  That may account for the similarity of her tale to the Western segment of Amy Bloom’s Away. Everyone’s drinking from the same well here.  And if you find a great detail like Pioneer Woman heading out in an ice storm to save her mule, and having to lead the mule home while picking ice out of her eyelashes every few minutes… heck, you go with it, right?  It just convinces me further that the true winners in history are the ones who put pencil to paper early and often because they get to frame the narrative. Maybe the finest ambition in life is really to become a Primary Source, right?  Just like Edmond de Goncourt.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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