Imagine two writers who get a great idea then each write part of the same book without ever comparing notes. That’s exactly what seems to have happened in Longshadow’s Woman. Written by a pair of sisters under the pseudonym Brownwyn Williams, Longshadow’s Woman is a disappointing and often confusing read.
Orphaned by the Minnesota Massacre, Carrie Adams spent much of her childhood in an orphanage until a man claiming to be her uncle adopted her. Henry Vander was not the warm loving family Carrie had always dreamed of, but rather a mean, selfish man who only wanted Carrie for cheap labor in his store. At sixteen, Henry married Carrie off to a man named Darther Adams to settle a gambling debt.
Since then Carrie has lived in desperate straits, slaving for a man whose only love is for gambling, his father’s Springfield rifle and a gold watch fob in the shape of a running horse. Most of the dreams Carrie had left were beaten out of her, but she still has one. She wants to plant corn and make her little bit of land successful. She can’t do it alone though, so when Darther is off on one of his many horseracing junkets, Carrie borrows two dollars from her elderly friend Emma and rents a prisoner to work for her.
Jonah Longshadow is that prisoner. The product of a Kiowa mother who was raped by a white solider, Jonah was once a great warrior until his people were herded onto the reservation. Unwilling to walk either the white man’s “Plow Road” or “Jesus Road” he becomes a sailor, surviving three shipwrecks and earning the name Jonah. On his return home he decides to stay in the East and spends his savings to start a horse farm. Of course no one believes a half-breed could come by such things honestly and he is thrown in jail, where he is due to stay until Carrie Adams comes along.
The book has a good premise and an engaging story, but it was so poorly written that it was utter frustration to read. In only two pages, the point of view switches from Jonah, to Darther, back to Jonah then to Carrie. This type of head hopping continues throughout, causing the reader to back track frequently to figure out whose head they’re in. Consistency was also a problem. For example, in one scene Carrie recollects being locked in the cellar as punishment by the woman who took care of her, but then later she thinks about the “kindly Mrs. Robinson” who cared for her. Also, Darther never leaves enough money for Carrie to buy decent food, and she has to hunt for rabbits or other wild game yet later she remembers how Jonah always loved her ham stew. Where did she ever get ham?
There is also a very annoying repetition of details and events, as if the authors hadn’t remembered if they'd written it before. There are no less than three occasions where the reader is told the only way Carrie can get Sorry the mule to move is to level a stream of curses at him, even though she never usually curses. Each time it’s written as if it’s something new the reader hasn’t heard yet. The same goes for how Carrie ended up with her Uncle Henry and then Darther. In an irritating contrast, other important details are glossed over with little development. Jonah’s background, for example, is reduced to a few lines about his mother’s suicide and grandfather’s death very late in the book. The final straw is the character of Purdy, who arrives deus ex machina style to solve the conflict in the last few pages of the book. No explanation of who he is or why he’s there is ever given. He is dropped in as if the reader’s should know who he is. Perhaps he is from an earlier Willams novel, but I had no clue.
All of this is unfortunate, because the book started out quite well. Both Jonah and Carrie were interesting and compelling characters. I wanted to know what would happen between them. Each of them has watched their hopes and dreams be crushed by others, yet they maintain the ability to see the goodness in each other. It was their strong characterization that kept me reading, despite the books flaws. In the end though, inconsistent writing and a too-pat ending cheat the characters, as well as the reader.