Pure Heart
Susan A. Palmer
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East meets West across time and tradition as three young American women and their Indian immigrant mothers take first steps toward true sisterhood, shattering secrets and sharing joy and tears in Susan A. Palmer's
Pure Heart

Buy *Pure Heart* by Susan A. Palmer online

Pure Heart
Susan A. Palmer
460 pages
May 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This is a long book, and I wasn't initially sure if I was going to like it. Set in Wyoming on a ranch when the railways have just started to have an impact on life for people, the information on the back suggests that the book is about a woman's mid-life crisis as her son leaves home for the first time. It wasn't about that at all. It is indeed about her son, Jess, leaving home and going to work on their neighbor's ranch, but Sarah isn't having a midlife crisis. Instead, she's beginning to come out of the shell in which she's lived for nearly 20 years following the death of her abusive husband.

Right at the beginning of the story we meet Sarah's potential love interest, Frank Colby, son of the owner of the ranch next door. As the story progresses, Sarah finds herself courted by various men, most of whom she likes but one she can't stand. The men's approach to courting seems rather singular, however - they just eat lots of Sarah's food. That is a strange thing about this book: the author seems to detail almost every meal that her characters eat. In a way, we learn about Sarah's generous and providing nature through the fact that she is an excellent cook, yet it seems rather repetitive to read of her making biscuits and potato pancakes and jelly and such things.

A thread of threat runs through the book with Charles Schneider, the man who Sarah doesn't like, apparently beginning to stalk her. That situation is dealt with towards the end of the book in just a couple of pages, and the characterization of Charles is rather facile. The romance between Sarah and Frank is almost nonexistent as neither wants to push each other - we learn far more about Sarah's nature through her interaction with Frank's friend Chet, young cowboy John, and Sarah's friend Annie. It isn't ever entirely clear why Sarah and Annie are friends as Annie appears to treat Sarah pretty unkindly throughout the book.

The writing style of this book is also rather strange. The author writes in short, disjointed sentences throughout the novel and seems to almost never use sub-clauses, which causes the prose to not flow smoothly. An example from page 242, the first paragraph:

"Jess walked into the bunkhouse. He carried a sack and two brown packages. He pulled the magazines and sandwiches out of the sack. He placed the magazines on top of the dressert. He opened the drawer and put the sandwiches inside. He unfolded the brown paper. Sarah had placed a dozen muffins in the paper. He took a muffin and placed it inside the drawer and closed it. He put the rest of the muffins on the top of the dresser for anyone who wanted one. He had a small package for Frank. He walked down towards the boss's room. It was quiet in the bunkhouse. He looked inside. Frank was doing paperwork. He knocked lightly on the door frame."
There's lots of dialogue as well, but again, it's short and much of it doesn't seem relevant to the overall story as a whole. The book could have been edited to half its length without losing any of its interest. A number of typographical errors throughout the book, such as "a picture of milk" for "pitcher of milk," should have been picked up by an editor.

The good points about the book are its setting, the fascinating time in history, the interaction between Sarah and two Indian workers, the hardships that people faced surviving in those days, and of course, the very slow-burn romance between Sarah and Frank. Sarah's epiphany about her hiding for the last two decades and that she doesn't like people having to take care of her happens in a couple of pages at the end, but it isn't clear quite how she could live her life with this new knowledge when in the male-dominated society of the ranch.

This book is an enjoyable read, never boring despite its length and the rather rambling way in which we read about food and conversations which don't seem all that important to the central plot. A good edit would have made it even better.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Helen Hancox, 2007

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