This Is Eden?
by Nancy Radcliffe

"She got up from the stump and slowly walked toward the gaping door of her new home. 'Lean not on your own understanding.'"

A feisty wife proves her mettle by moving to virgin land in Wisconsin from Chicago in 1913. Hattie, the serious one compared to her carefree husband, John, agrees to his proposal to move from a dirty, cramped tenement for the sake of her sick kids to land the railroad is selling. John sends Hattie and their six children ahead and plans to join them after completing Bible college. Hattie and family finish the half-completed cabin, put in a garden, and put down roots, anticipating John's arrival.

The linear chronology sets a relentless pace forward. Hattie has little choice but determination, taking care of a brood and a do-gooder husband who brings home "strays." In addition to keeping home, she makes clothes for extra income. Routine writing, with certain phrases repeated, makes the daily grind palpable. In a refreshing and realistic portrayal, images of the lush landscape—from Hattie's garden to the forests, as well as neighborliness—show the family's dependence on the land and the necessity of natural cycles. But moments of excitement, like a fire, a bear sighting, and near-death accidents and illness balance out general descriptions of normal household happenings. Hattie's spitty commands to her family also spice up the text. Some of the kids contracting the Spanish flu, news of WWI, and Hattie advocating for women's suffrage show the family's part played in the era's drama.

Hattie's adherence to her work ethic and perseverance as she confronts her husband's wanton behavior and her kids' coming of age inspires. She is a true heroine, shown steering them away from drinking and smoking and toward steady jobs as they grow up. She serves her family, as well as the story, with her unwavering, faithful attitude. One family's matriarchal legacy becomes a story that any family can be proud of.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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