Written by Barbara K. Richardson
Published by Torrey House Press
Review by Jana Richman
When six-year-old Clair Martin is found parentless and penniless in a 1859 Utah Territory mining town by a member of the Mormon brethren who takes her safely into the fold, one might be prompted to note that God works in mysterious ways. But Clair doesn’t see it that way. Raised for the next twelve years within the patriarchy of the Latter-Day Saints and schooled in the home skills of cooking, cleaning, and sewing, Clair is destined to become a sister-wife during Brigham Young’s colonizing heyday in spite of a rose-colored “mark of sin” that spreads across her left cheek and down her neck. It is only Clair herself who stops it from being so.
In her second novel, Barbara K. Richardson brings us in the form of Clair Martin one of the strongest and most complex female characters since Charlotte Bronte gave us Jane Eyre. Passionate and independent Clair desperately wants family, and she desperately wants love, but she must find them on her own terms. She is unable to accept what is foisted upon her, what seems to come easily to others. “Every form of love I’d known seemed to call for oblivion,” Clair says, pulling herself away from such an offer.
Hardwired for beauty, Clair finds it in the sage and wildflower-covered foothills of the Wasatch Mountains in Brigham City. But try as she might, she cannot fit herself into the expectations of a 19th century Utah woman. She strikes out for New Orleans with nothing but a name, hoping to find a strand of her father’s family—something that will give her a place from which to build. In New Orleans, she finds something more—she finds family and love in places she’d never thought of looking. Still, her heart longs for her desert home, and she will return once more—without compromise.
With stunning prose, gentle humor, and a subtle touch of grace, Richardson brings us a story of freedom and independence as vast and beautiful as the wild Utah Territory that holds it in place.
Jana Richman is the author of a memoir and two novels. Her most recent novel, The Ordinary Truth, which Booklist called “riveting, wise, and compassionate” in a starred review, will be in bookstores in November. Richman blogs at http://www.janarichman.com/blog/.