The lives and schemes of frontier politicians, Northern Pacific Railroad executives, bonanza farmers, and homesteaders converge in the story of Frances Houghton Bingham, who marries the son of a Red River Valley bonanza farmer in order to remain near her new husband's sister.
Emotionally complex, willful and resourceful, Frances is seduced by the myths of opportunity driving the settlement of Dakota Territory, and dares to dream of a new world in which to realize her unconventional desires. Providing a counterpoint to the dramatic risks taken by Frances is the generous voice of Kirsten Knudson, the daughter of Norwegian homesteaders.
As Kirsten grows from a voluble girl to a formidable woman, her observations (equal parts absurdity and insight) reveal the heart of the novel.
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Wonderful narration of a memorable novel
Margaret Daly's narration makes the voices of the characters come alive.
Like all the best writers, Marshall never forgets that a great novel must be an engaging story, and *Dakota* is very hard to put down. In the end, I was sad that I had to leave the world of the novel forever behind. The characters are deeply imagined and completely compelling, and this characterization drives everything. In fact, the book is so engrossing that it’s sometimes hard to notice how beautifully crafted it is. The voices of the two central characters, Frances and Kirsten, for example, are rendered completely differently and totally appropriately for their respective personalities. Frances gets traditional third person omniscience while Kirsten is rendered through a loquacious first person inner dialog. As some other reviewers have commented, Marshall does a wonderful job of avoiding anachronism: her late-19th-century characters both act and sound appropriate to the age. She does protect her main female characters from voicing some of the most odious racist and sexist attitudes of the times, but she never turns them into overt crusaders for a more modern ideology. I suppose there are a few flaws in the novel. Some readers might object to the slow pace of the first few chapters, and the ending seems a little rushed. The sections on railroad history and Dakota politics might also bare the threads of research too obviously and provide more exposition than is strictly needed. On the other hand, they help to give a depth to the setting that allows even minor characters to come alive. Overall, the book richly rewards its readers. I know its characters will remain with me forever.