June 1, 2023

Review: Lone Women

Lone Women Lone Women by Victor LaValle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is kind of an odd book, a genre mashup of westerns, fantasy, and horror. I thought it started out promisingly, with a tight third person focus on the protagonist: one Adelaide Henry, a Black woman who flees California after the mysterious deaths of her parents. Adelaide is trying to make it to Big Sandy, Montana, where she has applied to homestead 320 acres. (According to the author's afterword, this is a factual thing which was available in Montana in the time period of this book--1915--and open to Black people and single women.) The opening chapters establish the setting, the protagonist, and most importantly the mystery: Adelaide is carting an extremely heavy steamer trunk across the country with her, a trunk which must never be opened....or people will die.

All well and good, and the mystery is in fact the best thing about this book with its slow, creepy unfolding--until about halfway through when the trunk bursts open and we get a glimpse of what is inside. (The descriptions of the occupant are deliberately vague--I thought at first it was a vampire, but it turns out to be something entirely different at the end.) This complicates matters for Adelaide and sets up the final showdown between her, the monster, and the townspeople.

Unfortunately, after that the focus widens, and several other point of view characters are brought in. Some of them, frankly, I didn't care for too much. I wanted to go back to Adelaide. This made the middle of the story a bit of a muddle, until the rather bloody climax. I suppose the purpose of this was to show more of the townspeople and their entitlement and hubris, but if so, that idea wasn't very well executed. The ending was better, as Adelaide and the survivors settle into another town all their own and seem to be thriving.

So there was a lot to like about this book, but it wasn't tightly focused enough for this reader. It's certainly an interesting period of history, however, and it was worth exploring.

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