If it was Kansas City a while back I've been to the Badlands now from my armchair, South Dakota in the early 1920s to be exact, and if you plan to go there and read this one for heavens' sake have a huge glass of water standing by, you'll get very thirsty.
I've had to go back to US map though because with apologies to everyone who lives there where exactly is South Dakota? Years ago I had a friend who married a vicar and they moved to the US because God called them to South Dakota, but not for very long it has to be said before the call came for the East coast, so I didn't find out that much about it.
Now I've spotted it, top middle.
The joy of this longlist is yet another book I might never have found my way clear to reading, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber, and that would have been a quiet little tragedy, because yet another great read, I think one of the very best that I've read to date, from Macmillan New Writing.
For me this was one of those unputdownable, start one day, sleep a bit because you have to, and finish at first light the next day books and I was there, right there with Rachel DuPree. Sadly reading a book this fast for me may inevitably mean I miss the nuances of style and narrative but I just couldn't help myself and I blame Anne Weisgarber completely. I was reeled into Rachel's life so totally I couldn't turn my back for a minute to worry about metaphors and cleverness, a second read will doubtless confirm what I know, this is a powerful first novel and that's why it has also been nominated for the Orange First Novel Award.
Well, let me tell you right now, me and Rachel we've done the whole punishing lot together.
We've scratched and scraped a living out of nothing, pulped the beans, birthed eight children, barely had a drink of water for weeks when the drought hit, run out on the porch to fill all the pitchers when the rains came and with the help of a nip or two of the children's 'calming' mixture along the way we've figured out what's for the best.
Rachel has married Isaac, (I kept asking her if she was sure about this but she would insist) the man whose words
'could cut the meat off a person's bones but just as quick he could forgive and forget.'
and together they have left Chicago to stake a claim and their precarious future as a family on this heartless, barren land.
For Isaac owning land will give him the status he feels he deserves whilst Rachel is determined to give their children the life they deserve, lives touched by a 'dab of sweetness'. Memories are things to fall back on in hard times and Rachel is determined to give her children something better (having ignored my wise counsel and got herself in this mess I felt duty-bound to support this tack)
That's all going to involve some tough decisions for Rachel and Ann Weisgarber's skill was to place me right there alongside Rachel's first person narrative as she found the immeasurable strength and courage to survive.(We talked it out, me and Rachel and in the end well...)
Themes of hardship, racial prejudice and self-respect weave in and out of the story, and as the only black Americans for miles around even that becomes a problem for Isaac and Rachel in this isolated backwoods setting.
By now it should be becoming clear that this Orange longlist was harbouring plenty of contrasting perspectives on similar topics and that can make for an interesting sequence of reading. Ordinarily I may not have chosen to give myself such an intensely issue-laden succession of books, in fact I may have ensured that I didn't, but it has offered me some valuable opportunities to think around the topics and each book is asking something very different of me.
Read closely, read this one fast straight through and don't stop, read this one very carefully indeed or you will miss the point,laugh, cry, pause and reflect, in fact do all of those things together...you're a woman for goodness' sake, multi-task.
Names in comments because there are five copies of this one waiting to go worldwide to lucky winners who'd like to get to know Rachel duPree too, and just be thankful I stepped in and advised her, so that you can enjoy the read and spot the metaphors and cleverness without all the worry I've been through.
To get into character Rocky will hitch up to the chuck wagon, shout ye-ha and go lassooing the steers before eating his grits and choosing the winners.