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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

College Instructor Reviews Western Creative Nonfiction

Fly With The Mourning Dove
By Velda Brotherton
Creative non fiction
ISBN 1-4241-5904-0
Publish America

REVIEW by Dr. Loren GruberOriginally published on Publish America's website

Velda Brotherton delivers again. Gleaned from the diaries of Cassie Smith and her daughter Edna, Fly with the Mourning Dove captures the struggles of two women to civilize their portions of the West.

Quoting material from their diaries, Brotherton reconstructs their lives at the beginning of the twentieth century.

They "cowboy up" as tuberculosis ravages the lungs of Finas, their husband and father; as drought ravages their land; as the Great Depression ravages the economy. While butchering a turkey, overcoming frontier loneliness, and eating porcupine, Cassie and Edna each learn to be as tough and tenacious as the West itself.
Brotherton recreates especially endearing scenes when Edna discovers herself. She roars through the boarding house with her Indian-scalping playmates, prepares for her first Communion, lives the life of a cowpuncher, and teaches her first grade school class.

Young Edna asks permission to accompany her father on his trip to fetch water at Taos Junction, New Mexico.

"No," her mother replies, "I said no. You stay here and we'll make some clothes for the fairies. They have missed you terribly and are practically going naked."
Although Edna thought the notion of naked fairies silly, one can imagine that she grew up with Palmer Cox's Brownie Books, Andrew Lang's Fairy Books, and perhaps Art Nouveau semi-nude fairies.

In her later years, Edna writes, "All my life has been packed away in little boxes." Lucky for us, she did.

Still luckier for us, Brotherton carefully unpacks each to display memorable scenes of Edna's life.

Fly with the Mourning Dove is a welcome addition to turn-of-the-century "civilized" memoirs that include Virginia Cary Hudson's O Ye Jigs and Juleps, Dorothy Daniel's Circle 'round the Square, and Clarence Day's Life with Father.

The difference is that Velda Brotherton draws us into the lives of two women who helped shape the West, Edna and Cassie Smith. We are all the richer for it.
Loren Gruber is former Dean of the Arts and Humanities Division at Missouri Valley College, Marshall, Missouri. He continues to teach English there.

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