In the mid-1800s, after a final blow from her abusive, drunken father’s hand, Cody Walsh flees from the family farm in Arkansas, determined to seek out her brothers in California. She strikes out toward St. Louis and the long trail toward the West. In an early chapter of Missouri Vaun’s Crossing the Wide Forever, Cody’s aunt suggests she dress in her male cousin’s clothes to keep her safe on her journey. But her well-being is only assured if her ruse isn’t discovered.

Lillie Ellis is an artist who lives with her family in New York. When news arrives telling her an uncle has died and he’s left her his homestead in Kansas, Lillie sees it as a chance for adventure and independence. She has no idea about the difficulties of farming and the loneliness of life on the prairie. Nevertheless, she strikes out toward the jumping-off place for everyone headed West with an enthusiasm and excitement brought by youth and naiveté.

When she disembarks from the train in St. Louis, she’s overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the place, and later, by the need to organize supplies and travel to Kansas to reach her uncle’s farm. This makes her an easy mark for those who would take advantage of her. If it wasn’t for happenstance meetings with Cody Walsh, she might never survive to leave the city with the supplies she needs.

As their journeys take the two women on the next phase of their lives, fate thrusts them together again, and the two form a friendship and an alliance to ensure they will be able to continue on safe from predators and rascals alike. Their new plan is for Cody to accompany Lillie to Kansas and stay a while to help her get settled on the farm. However, as time passes, these two find themselves feeling more than friendship for one another, and the thought of separation begins to take its toll. If they could only figure out they’re meant to be together and cross the divide between companionship and love, all their anguish and worry would disappear. However, first they must learn to communicate their feelings openly, and both women are having trouble doing just that.

Vaun gives us a well thought-out plot, describing locations with Lillie’s artistic eye. Historical facts are skillfully integrated into the story, giving us a flavor of the times without feeling like we’re being lectured. Touches of humorous conversation may tickle the reader now and then, often breaking tension and making the story even more appealing.

The main characters are endearing in spite of their faults and their floundering. They are people we want to cheer on to success in life and in their relationship. Secondary characters are varied enough in personality and temperament to make them interesting; the cast includes supportive friends, men desperate to find suitable wives, and scoundrels up to no good.

The story moves along smoothly, giving us one page-turning, dramatic experience after another. Deft narration gives the story a flavor of time and place; the dialogue gives the characters their distinctive voices, and informs us of their struggles and their growth as they move toward their ultimate goal—which is so much more than they think it is.

Crossing the Wide Forever is a near-heroic love story set in an epic time, told with almost lyrical prose. Words on the page will carry the reader, along with the main characters, back into history and into adventure. It’s a tale that’s easy to read, with enchanting main characters, despicable villains, and supportive friendships, producing a fascinating account of passion and adventure.

 

Crossing the Wide Forever
By Missouri Vaun
Bold Strokes Books
Paperback, 9781626398511, 264 pp.
June 2017



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