Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 5/5
This is a beautifully written, character-driven story of Maud, a young woman coming of age in Eastern Oklahoma in 1926 on an allotment parceled out to the Cherokee when their land was confiscated for Oklahoma statehood. It is a hard life, filled with violence, dirt, and hardship but also with family and love. When she meets a white peddler whose cart is full of (among other things) books, she sees a chance to escape her lot.
I love the characters in this book — Maud, her sensitive brother Lovely, and her bundles of relatives — all working to survive in this hardscrabble land. Maud’s voice is clear, compelling, and foreign. This chronicle of life is eye-opening and feels utterly real. There are no ridiculous plot devices and no political agenda — just a richly depicted existence with all the nooks and crannies of both an internal life lived among external circumstances.
This was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2016 (The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen won). While I have not read the winner, I would have been very happy to see Maud’s Line win.
“She liked books, learning, and clean things. She liked folks being nice to one another. But most of all, she wanted to live in a place where people died of natural causes when they were old and were dressed up in suits and laud down in wooden boxes.”
“Maud began to feel a growing hatred for who she was and where she lived. She was sick to death of dirt, sick of dead bodies gnawed by animals. Her only chance for escape had been that bright blue canvas rocking hr way. She cursed Booker out loud. “
“She felt comfortable with her body taking its pleasure and giving it back. And she discovered right there next to the porch that her pleasure was in her own control and not entirely linked to a man who had up and left her with no warning.”
“Yes, Cherokee women have high standards. We only marry into whites to keep y’all from killing us off.”
“Maud thought those kinds of questions were worth asking, but she never came to the same conclusions her friends did. She thought God, if there was one, didn’t give a shiny penny for what they were doing or what happened to them. And he seemed particularly unpartial toward Indians.”