The Edge of Time by Louella Grace Erdman

Bethany and Wade Cameron begin their journey by wagon from Missouri to the Texas Panhandle on their wedding day. They take with them, or acquire along the way, a few necessary items: a milk cow, a horse, seeds, curtains, a rag rug, and a rosebush cutting from the rosebush in Bethany’s parents’ front yard. When they reach their homestead in Texas, they will have no near neighbors, no railroad nearby to bring in supplies or take crops to market, and no extra resources other than their own faith, courage, and stick-to-it-tiveness. Bethany is not even sure of Wade’s love for her; he was originally pledged to marry another girl who jilted him, and he only turned to Bethany when she rashly promised to go with him anywhere.

One reviewer on Amazon said of this book: “I started reading this book and thought it was going to start off slow. It wasn’t slow just in the beginning… I think it was a horrible pointless book.” I disagree, but if you’re looking for a modern thriller or romance, you will be as disappointed as the Amazon reviewer was. Bethany’s and Wade’s story unfolds slowly; their love and commitment grow over time. And the story is as much about their love affair with homesteading and with the land as it is about their marriage and their love for each other.

Two things impressed me. I was reminded of the old song from the musical Oklahoma:

One of the major themes of the book is the inevitability of change, and the conflict between the ranchers and the new farming homesteaders. Wade and Bethany are determined to make a go of farming in the new lands that the state of Texas is selling to homesteaders. Their neighbors and friends are mostly cowboys and ranchers who are kind and helpful to the new couple but not at all sympathetic to the fences and the plows that are breaking up the open range lands.

The other thing I noticed was the pattern of Bethany’s and Wade’s marriage. The story takes place in the late 1880’s; the book was published in 1950. The Camerons’ relationship displays the customs and expectations of both time periods. Wade is the strong, silent type. He makes the decisions and expects Bethany to agree with him. Bethany also expects things to be this way, although there is a scene in which she wants him to consult her about a major financial decision, but realizes that he can’t show that kind of “weakness” in front of other people. He later admits that he should have asked her about the decision, “that it was cowardly not to have asked her . . . But I just—well, I just couldn’t tell him—” And Bethany ends up glad that Wade didn’t embarrass himself and “come trailing in to ask [her]”.

It’s a different kind of marriage relationship than very many people would try nowadays. But perhaps our lack of trust in one another, and our need to always have everything “equal” and “fair” with all decisions being joint decisions, 50/50, creates its own set of problems and incongruities.

Louella Grace Erdman was a Texas writer who penned a number of books for adults and for children, mostly set in the Texas Panhandle where she lived the majority of her life. Ms. Erdman was a teacher of creative writing at West Texas State College, and she wrote about fifteen or more novels about pioneer and frontier life in Texas and elsewhere and a couple of volumes of memoir. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for more of Ms. Erdman’s books.

Her books include:

Tales of the Texas Panhandle series. The Pierce family–father, mother and five children—are homesteaders in the Texas Panhandle during the late 1800’s. For middle graders and young adults.
The Wind Blows Free
The Wide Horizon
The Good Land

Other books for adults and teens:
Separate Star. A young schoolteacher’s first year of teaching.
Fair Is the Morning Connie a young school teacher moves the to rural town of Hickory Ridge to write a thesis on rural schools. The job soon proves to be a greater challenge than she had first imagined.
Lonely Passage. Coming of age story about a young girl growing up in a family of strong women.
Many a Voyage. Fiction about Kansas senator, later territorial governor of New Mexico, Edmund G. Ross through the eyes of his wife.
My Sky Is Blue.
The Far Journey. A young woman is reluctant to join her husband, Edward, on the Texas frontier, but eventually she does as they make a life together.
Room to Grow. French immigrants move to the Texas Panhandle from New Orleans.
Another Spring. Civil War era romance about families displaced by Order Number Eleven at the end of the Civil War.
A Bluebird Will Do. “Orphaned in San Francisco during gold rush days, a sixteen-year-old girl travels east by way of the Isthmus of Panama to seek out relatives in New Orleans.”
Save Weeping for the Night.. A fictional account of the life of Bettie Shelby, wife of the Confederate hero, General Jo Shelby.
Three at the Wedding. The wedding of Meredith Dunlap and Rodney Carlyle in the town of Linston, Texas shortly after World War II changes the lives of three other women in various ways.
The Years of the Locust.. The life and influence of an eighty year old farmer, Dade Kenzie, after his death in rural Missouri.
Life was Simpler Then. “Memories of the author’s Missouri farm childhood, within the framework of the four seasons.
A Time to Write.. Writing memoir.

Blog post on Louella Grace Erdman and her books at From Sinking Sand.
Handbook of Texas entry on Louella Grace Erdman.

10 Best Adult Fiction Books I Read in 2017

News of the World by Paulette Jiles. It’s a surprise, even to himself, when in Wichita Falls Captain Jefferson Kidd agrees to deliver ten year old Johanna Leonberger to her relatives near Fredericksburg. Johanna has been a captive of the Kiowa for four years, and now the girl has been recovered. But, unfortunately for her, Johanna still believes she is Kiowa, but the Indians don’t want her back and the only choice Johanna has is whether or not to go quietly to her unremembered relatives’ home in German country.

The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. A lovely novel about enduring suffering and finding one’s place in the world.

Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. American businessman Ben Fielding discovers the truth about the persecuted church in China when he goes to visit his former college roommate, Li Quan.

The Glorious Cause by Jeff Shaara. A fictionalized history of the American revolution as seen through the eyes of George Washington, Nathaniel Green, Benedict Arnold, the Marquis de Lafayette, British Generals William Howe and Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Dr. Annick Swenson is working, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, on a fertility drug that will revolutionize the world, if it can be brought to market. The trouble is that Dr. Swenson can’t be bothered to communicate with the pharmaceutical company that is sponsoring her work and that hopes to make a fortune by selling her discovery. The company has already sent one person down to Brazil to find out what’s going on, Anders Eckman. But he’s disappeared, reported dead. Now, they want Dr. Marina Singh, a researcher who worked with Eckman, to go to Brazil, find out exactly what happened to her friend and colleague Anders Eckman, and bring back a firm timetable for the completion of research on the fertility drug.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer. Solid Regency romance with strong characters and witty and slangy repartee. I liked the romantic leads quite a bit, and I even felt sympathy for the ingenue parts, played by Frederica’s sister Charis and her crush.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. World War I veteran Tom Sherburne, returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a small, isolated island off the coast of western Australia. He marries a local girl, Isabel, and although the marriage is happy, the isolation of the lighthouse leads Isabel to make a fateful decision.

Kindred by Octavia Butler. Dana, a twentieth century black woman, is transported back in time to the early nineteenth century in a slave state where she is forced to decide again and again whether she should do something to save the life of a young white slaveowner, Rufus.

Demelza by Winston Graham. This second book in the Poldark series ends with death, destruction, and loss. From its hope filled beginning with the birth of a child for Ross and Demelza Poldark to the end when all is dark with only a hint of light in the last line of the novel, the story is an engaging look at late 18th century Cornwall and its politics, characters and social customs.

Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham. The third book in the Poldark saga.

P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows by Caroline Lawrence

P.K. Pinkerton fills yet another niche in detective fiction for middle graders with a high-functioning autistic detective who is half Lakota Sioux/half white. I haven’t read the first two books in this series, but I want to read them both after having enjoyed The Pistol-Packing Widows. There are a few caveats that might discourage some readers:

1) Some reviewers have lambasted the first two books as stereotypical and offensive in their portrayal of Native Americans. I didn’t find this book to be so, but I may not be as sensitive to this issue as other people are.

2) P.K. is supposed to be a devout Methodist Christian, and for the most part he acts like a Christian. However, there is a brief scene in which P.K. consults his “spirit guide” (who turns out to be a worm?). I wish the author hadn’t included that scene since it’s not really integral to the plot or characterization, but there it is.

3) P.K. also talks about and associates with ladies he calls “soiled doves”, a euphemism for prostitutes. He’s tolerant of their profession, if he really understands what it is they do. P.K. is fairly innocent about the world, and he may be oblivious to the true nature of prostitution.

All that stuff aside, I loved this book. P.K. is an engaging character, something of a savant and quite an astute observer, even if he doesn’t always understand what he is observing. In this particular episode in the career of P.K. Pinkerton, private detective, P.K. is observing the Nevada politicians in Carson City as they give out toll road franchises to the highest bidders and negotiate with one another over the possibility of Nevada Territory’s becoming a state. He’s also trying to save his friend Poker Face Jace from the clutches of a “black widow” named Violetta de Baskerville, and in his spare time, he’s helping his new friend Miss Carrie Pixley keep an eye on her beloved, Mr. Sam Clemens. P.K. has a busy life.

There’s a big reveal about three-fourths of the way through the book, and I didn’t see it coming. For those who have read the first two books, I think the cat is already out of the bag. But for me, it was an adjustment to my thinking. Anyway, it’s a fun read with plenty of action and a thoroughly likable young detective. Reading this one not only made me want to read the first two books in this series, but it also made me interested in looking up Ms. Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries series.

The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton

If there was ever a piece of fiction that should be adopted as a manifesto and banner for the conservative/libertarian movement in American politics, it’s not any of that nonsense by Ayn Rand. (I never could get through either of her most famous tomes although I tried . . once . . each.) Elmer Kelton’s The Time It Never Rained is a Western classic, a conservative classic, and a cracking good story. It should be recommended reading for all little conservatives-in-training.

So, in the 1950’s, about the time I was born, West Texas ranchers and farmers endured a seven year drouth. Seven years with little or no rain. Seven years. Charlie Flagg has lived through drought before, and he’s sure he can make through this one. But seven years is a long time, and no one, of course, knows that the drought will last so long or when or even if it will ever be over. Charlie, cantankerous and set in his ways even before the drought begins, only becomes more so as he faces the loss of his cattle, his sheep, his family and friends, and finally most of his land. Still, Charlie never gives up, never gives in to what he believes is wrong.

And one thing Charlie believes is wrong, at least for himself, is accepting government aid and price supports. As it turns out, the government aid offered to the ranchers to help them feed their animals and survive the drought comes with strings attached, and artificial prices confuse the free market so much that the ranchers can’t make a living even when the rains return. Charlie must change, accepting the idea of raising goats in addition to the sheep that have been his mainstay, but he never compromises his principles.

Charlie Flagg isn’t perfect, and the author shows us his faults as well as his strengths. Charlie and his wife have grown apart, mostly because Charlie is the strong, silent type, not much of a communicator (Charlie’s attitude: He told her he loved her when he married her, and he’d be sure to let her know if anything changed.) Charlie is an old-style patron to his Mexican American workers, and he sometimes patronizes them and treats them with the kind of “separate but equal” attitude that was the trademark of the fifties relationship between Anglos and Latin Americans, as we used to call them. Charlie doesn’t hire illegals, but he respects them for their work ethic and their willingness to cross the border to find work. He wishes the government would just leave everybody alone, including the Mexicans who come to work in the United States, and especially including the ranchers who are just trying to make a living raising cattle and sheep and goats.

That’s the typical attitude of the typical West Texan that I knew growing up. I grew up in San Angelo, Mr. Kelton’s hometown. And most people there, at least thirty years ago, would have told you they just wanted the government, state and federal, to leave them alone. Some older men and women I knew were “yellow dog Democrats” and others were newly-coined Republicans, but all of them shared the desire to be left alone to raise their families and do their work without interference or help from the government.

QOTD: How do you respond to adversity or failure? How do you want to see yourself respond to hard times?