What if you did things in the name of the army that you just couldn't put out of your mind? In 1886, Ulysses Pope thought back not to his service in the Civil War but to the role he played in fighting the Plains Indians. Although he couldn't reverse the past, he hoped he could find a way to bring to peace to those he hurt and, at the same time, put his personal demons to rest.
That summer was cool and windless, the clouds unrelenting, as if God had reached out his hand one day and nudged the sun from its rightful place.—The High Divide by Lin Enger (Workman / Algonquin Press, 2014, p. 1)
Way out on the lip of the northern plains the small town lay hidden in fog, the few moving about at this hour ghostlike, not quite solid: the shopkeepers, the man driving his water-wagon, the dressmaker with her quick, smooth strides. In a clapboard house a stone's throw from the river, a lean, square-shouldered man knelt before an old flattop trunk.
- Setting: the High Plains, 1886
- Circumstances: Ulysses Pope leaves his family, without warning, to seek redemption; his sons and, later, his wife head out into Indian Territory, following scant clues and rumors, to learn his fate.
- Characters: Ulysses Pope, a man of secrets; Gretta Pope, a Danish immigrant; Eli and Danny, their young sons; various people they meet on their travels
- Genre: historical fiction; literary fiction
- Themes: family; guilt; war; the fading of the Old West; white expansion into Indian lands; environmental issues
- What I wrote (in part) for the Bloggers Recommend Newsletter: "Enger's concisely and beautifully crafted story of family, secrets, and the passing of the Old West balances the wonder and dangers of the wilderness with a deeply emotional and complex psychological landscape."
- More thoughts: Although the plot is multilayered, Enger skillfully dovetails the story lines, bringing Ulysses's quest for forgiveness, Gretta's struggle to understand and make peace with her husband, and the boys' adventures neatly together. All the Popes are strong and independent, and yet underneath their individuality flows a strong current of unspoken love and loyalty. As the character study / adventure story takes shape, each member of the family displays a unique form of bravery, both when facing the uncertainties of life on the move and when examining his or her own soul.
- Recommendations: For those who like literary fiction, stories set in the late 1800s, and writers who can bring the beauty of the natural landscape alive. One of of the best new novels of the fall season.