Most PA Shopper and Northern Express readers (including me) reside within the northern grain belt (including PA) or the boreal forest. And we often travel through the borderland between those regions. For that reason Elinor Florence’s new novel Wildwood, though set in Alberta’s Peace River country, should appeal to us.
The book alternates, a few pages at a time, between two stories. The main one is set in the present time. It is about Molly Bannister who, with her small daughter Bridget, moves from their home in Nevada to a farmhouse at the edge of the Canadian boreal forest. She does this because she must, according to her great uncle’s will, live in the farmhouse for one full year in order to inherit the farmland on which it is located.
The other story is from the diary of her great aunt, who lived in the same house during the homestead era of the 1920s and ‘30s. Strangely enough, that house, unoccupied for the 20 or so years before Molly came along, has never been equipped with electric power, indoor plumbing, or sewage facilities. Thus Molly is living in conditions similar to those of her great aunt.
Now there are many old geezers in our part of Saskatchewan--including me--who were raised in those primitive homestead conditions and can easily relate to those in the book. She, of course, does have access to the 21st century world a short drive away; we were much more isolated.
As a single mother in financial straits, Molly’s plan is to complete the 12-month requirement during which she will receive monthly rent payments from the farmers who rent the land. Then she will sell it and return to Nevada. She finds the challenges in this “godforsaken” land overwhelming and can’t wait for the year to end and escape.
The diary begins to fascinate her as there are so many parallels to her great-aunt’s challenges. This helps, as time goes by, for Molly to slowly learn to cope--much to her delighted surprise--with the primitive conditions. And to gradually fall in love with the place.
Besides Molly and Bridget, the two major characters of their story are Wynona, a young Cree girl and Colin McKay, a young farmer who works Molly’s land. In the diary story there is just Molly’s aunt Mary Margaret Bannister Lee and her husband George. Together these people bring us a complete range of human emotions and reactions to success and failure, adversity and triumph, heartbreak and delight.
There are an amazing number of related elements in the story. The rugged natural beauty of the Peace River country described as Molly and Bridget become captivated by it. Oil company exploitation. Environmental concerns. Sexual encouters. Conditions faced by indigenous people. Recipes and strategies for wood stove cooking. Primitive farming practices, along with other homestead era contrasts with the present.
And, of course, the flowering of romance. I’ll leave the details of that to you when you read the book. Which I recommend you do. It’s a good read.
Elinor Florence is a Saskatchewan girl originally from a farm near North Battleford. I reviewed her earlier novel Bird’s Eye View--a national best seller--for Rural Roots in 2016 and she reviewed one of mine, Stories in the Dirt. This year as part of a cross-country book tour she came to Melfort on June 13, where Esther and I went to take in her presentation. That’s where the accompanying photo was taken.