"Lone Women" | Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson
“Lone Women,” a novel by Victor LaValle, is set in 1915. Its protagonist is Adelaide Henry, who for the first time in her life is away from her parents. Behind her in California the smoke still rises from the remains of her childhood home, evidence of the violent acts within, now hidden amongst the ashes. At her side, like an albatross, sits her steamer trunk, her family secret locked securely inside; ahead lies Montana and her own homestead to claim, enough land to farm and live out the rest of her days, and more importantly enough open space in which to disappear.
Adelaide is prepared for the hardships a life as a lone woman has in store, after all, at age 31 she has spent most of her life laboring with her parents on their Lucerne Valley farm. Though lone, Adelaide is far from alone after she settles into her new space. Her neighbors Mrs. Price and son Sam come to visit bringing advice for surviving the harsh terrain and much needed camaraderie. Soon after, other neighbors—cowboys, sheepherders and curious men working the land begin to call on her. Through Mrs. Price she is introduced to other lone women from nearby Big Sandy, filling the void of loneliness with unexpected friendship.
Of course, even when she is alone, Adelaide never truly is by herself—she has the constant companion of memory howling from her trunk. When it seems that she might be able to close the door on her past and relax into her new life, the lid to her steamer trunk opens, releasing its horrifying secret upon the vast Montana landscape. As Adelaide grapples with the reemergence of what she has tried to keep hidden, it becomes apparent that it may be the only thing that can save her.
“Lone Women” is by far my favorite book of this year. Upon finishing it, I immediately handed it to my husband who inhaled it just as I did. “Lone Women” is not only charismatically written, with Adelaide and the rest of the lone women of Montana coming to life off the page, it is nearly impossible to put down. Against the beautiful back drop of Big Sky Country, this book is fresh and engaging, blending frontier elements with magical realism and adding much needed women’s empowerment for a new kind of western.