No Reck’ning Made

Clara Coleman, in her first appearance in this novel, is a young girl trying hard to find light and meaning in a landscape that is short on both commodities. The Gulch, as it is called, is an impoverished part of a section of Colorado mining country; life is coarse there, and the people see only what lies immediately in front of them. Clara’s family suffers a sort of class-conscious tension; her father, an Easterner who has come West as an assayer, has pretensions to social refinement but lacks the wherewithal to achieve that refinement; her mother bears her children—and her husband’s rage—to an early death.

What distances Clara from this miasma is a unique insight—what she calls her Moment of Knowing—experienced when she is nine, in which she realizes that she can be and must be different from her parents. The power to achieve that difference, Clara understands, lies in books, in words, in learning. Thus, she sets about educating herself, seeking education so that she might bring that same power to others in that bleak and benighted place. Clara does not, indeed, seek to escape that place, but to return to that place and to improve it.

After a hard-earned college degree and a marriage to a sort of magical, father-haunted man named Andy Percival, Clara comes back to the Gulch as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. She returns to replace a teacher who has been forced to leave when her pregnancy—the result of a rape—becomes...

(The entire section is 445 words.)