The Diary of Mattie Spenser – Book Review

Title: The Diary of Mattie Spenser

Author: Sandra Dallas

Genre: Historical Fiction, Pioneer

Year Published: Griffin, 1998

Recommended by: Aunt Joey

Review: Kirkus Reviews. The buoyancy and simple, uncloying sweetness of spirit of Dallas’s appealing protagonist–the young wife of a homesteader in Colorado Territory–give a bright, fresh shading to the tragedies and small sharp joys of 19th-century frontier life. Again, as in The Persian Pickle Club (1995), Dallas has caught the lilt and drift of regional speech. At 22, plain Mattie is astounded that handsome Luke Spenser desires to marry her–he has been keeping company with pretty Persia. Nonetheless, he chooses her, and they head out from Iowa in May 1865 to the homestead Luke has already planted in Colorado Territory. There are pleasures along the way: nice folks, and quiet days spent with Luke, her “Darling Boy.” But Luke, who doesn’t smile at her jokes, works very hard and doesn’t like her to flirt with him. As for the marital act: “I still think it’s overrated.” Danger comes soon enough, and it’s Mattie’s quick shooting that saves two lives, although she doesn’t seriously contradict Luke’s dismissive observation that it was a “lucky shot.” Once they arrive in Colorado, though, Mattie is disappointed by the homestead (out on the plains, she finds, there is “too much sky”). Her education in the real travails of people, particularly women, separated from the cushioning platitudes and quick-step judgments of home, begins immediately. A despised “slattern” proves herself a true friend; Mattie witnesses women weakened by too many births, another abused and horribly killed, and murder and torture by both whites and Indians. She also experiences wild joy and then tragedy, suffers many dangers, and is rocked by Luke’s sudden betrayal. (“How could he ever again be my Darling Boy?”) Yet torment yields to endurance and a kind of compassion. Tragedies and sad little domestic dramas are muffled within the decency and humanity of a character whose understanding–but not essence–changes with events. A modest, appealing novel with a convincing reach into Colorado’s plains and skies.

Notes: I could not put this book down!  A quick, fun read.  It would be worth reading more by this author.

Rating (out of four stars): four stars

Date Finished: 7/15/10


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