Christopher Collier Olivia Coolidge - Essay

Olivia Coolidge

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Bloody Country is an exciting and well-written novel concerning a little-known episode in American history, namely the conflict between Pennsylvania and Connecticut for the ownership of the Wyoming Valley, which was awarded to Pennsylvania by Congress in 1782.

Ben Buck, his parents, his sister Annie and her husband, together with the family slave Joe Mountain, half Indian and half Black, form part of a group of Connecticut settlers which Pennsylvanians now try to dispossess…. The Bucks, who have worked desperately to build their flour mill on the banks of the Susquehanna near Wilkes Barre, soon find that their sacrifice and toil count for nothing. If they are driven back to Connecticut with the loss of all they own, Ben sees no future save work as another man's servant, never getting a chance to raise a family or have a place of his own. This grim prospect gradually forces him to reflect on the position of Joe Mountain…. Ben's struggles to see Joe as a person rather than a chattel give depth to the plot and serve to develop his character and those of family members.

The action is consistently exciting, starting with the Indian raid which kills Ben's mother, going on to the mounting tension caused by acts of violence against the Connecticut settlers, and climaxed by a tremendous flood of the Susquehanna, which devastates the valley and wipes out the mill…. But nothing can keep the Buck family down. Ben and his father rebuild the mill, while "the government" finds it too expensive to continue supporting with troops those speculators who have been trying to take over. Thus all comes right in the end, even for Joe Mountain, while Ben achieves a solid maturity.

The government does not come well out of this story, though it is evident that there are lawyers fighting about the case, even if the Bucks know little about them. But since Ben and his father are indestructible, they wear the government down at least as successfully as do the legal men in Philadelphia. The Bloody Country is a dramatic, well-constructed, thoughtful book which gives a vivid picture of the hard work and persistence so often needed by the successful pioneer.

Olivia Coolidge, "The Founding Fighters," in Book World—The Washington Post, May 2, 1976, p. L3.∗