Saturday, June 13, 2009

Just In Time For Summer, A New Sandra Dallas Book!

Sandra Dallas has been a favorite of mine ever since the summer I turned 16 and found Buster Midnight's Cafe at one of those remaindered book sale places that open for a couple of months at a time in an empty storefront. By some miracle, her new one, Prayers for Sale was in. As it's a seven-day-book, I read that one first.

It's a pleasant and quick read. I also think it would film very well, with a tween star (Miley Cyrus perhaps?) taking her first "serious" role as Nit, a twenty-year-old young bride who's come from Kentucky with her husband to the gold mining town of Middle Swan, Colorado. A beloved, critically acclaimed female star (Jessica Tandy or Katherine Hepburn would be good if they were still alive) would play the Old Hennie, who has lived in Middle Swan since she was about Nit's age and is now preparing to leave the rough mining town, and her home of nearly 70 years, to live with her daughter in Iowa. Nit stops at Hennie's gate, drawn by the Prayers For Sale sign, and the two strike up a friendship. The leading, meatiest role of the movie would go to an established female star with substance (someone like Kate Winslet, but probably not her), as Hennie tells Nit her life story in a series of flashbacks.

Hennie's story is, in a sense, the story of late 19th-century America. Hennie becomes a Civil War widow at a very early age and is lured West by a friend who moved there with her husband. The Gold Rush is in full swing, as is westward expansion in general, and Hennie goes to seek her future. Over the years, she watches as Middle Swan matures from a clearing populated primarily by hookers and prospectors to an established town with real buildings and schools.

Hennie's there for it all. And as she prepares to leave, she shares her tales with Nit, partially to help her prepare for what's still a very rough life (the story is set in 1936) and partially because she recognizes that these stories are her legacy. The ranks of those who settled Middle Swan are dwindling every day (Hennie is 86) and when Hennie goes "down below" to live with her daughter, there will be one less person who remembers the town's history.

Hennie's stories alternate between being funny and tragic (as does life, I suppose). There's the tale of Maudie, who dies after her evil husband throws her into a fire, then fails to seek medical treament. There's the tale of the star-crossed love between a prostitute named Bijou and a man from a wealthy family. There's also the tale of how Hennie's friends helped the wife of an avid gambler beat him at his own game and scare him away from the card table for good. There are tales of prospectors who struck it rich and left the life of toil for the high life, and other prospectors who found that the search was what brought the satisfaction and the suppsoed "pay-off" was just a let-down. There are dozens of tales crammed into the more 300-odd pages of the book. I recommend picking this one up. It's great fun, but the kind that will stay with you when it's done.