(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

One of the novel's central themes is Sorry's search for who he is, his identity, both as part of a family and as part of a community. How does a man identify himself—as a worker, say, a farmer, a singer, a bull rider, a rodeo clown? Is he essentially a part of a family, a tribe, with a function within that unit? Or is he alone and a loner, one who is cut off from the usual structures that provide community? The action of this novel takes place, counting flashbacks, from about 1885 to the 1980s and ranges from a farm in Oklahoma to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. And, if one considers its "Prologue Two," Kimball takes us back one hundred million years to the origins of the Great Plains and to the emergence of all of the forms of life that have occupied that huge sweep of space from dinosaurs to bull and bronco riders, wheat farmers, and WCTU members. Its "Prologue Three" surveys the humans who settled the prairies. This sweep of history is relevant to Sorry's search for his identity. "Man who is born of woman is born into sorrow"—the proverb suggests not only Sorry's name but his condition. Sorry's grandfather, he learns, was an alcoholic horse trader and resident of the Great Plains (reminiscent of "The Ol' Man" whom we meet in Kimball's later novel, Liar's Moon), suggesting that Sorry's search is part of the larger saga of Everyman on the Plains. Harvesting Ballads traces Sorry's journey as he acquires knowledge of his heritage by spinning together...

(The entire section is 597 words.)