Patricia Grady Cox
I recently discovered a new author, at least new to me. Mari Sandoz, born in Nebraska in 1896, writes about that part of the country: Native American history, biographies, short stories, and novels. In 1964 she received a Saddleman’s Award and a Western Writers of America Spur Award for juvenile fiction for her novel The Story Catcher.
Slogum House, her first novel (definitely not for juveniles), is the dark and violent story of a family of homesteaders in the sand hills of Nebraska. To call this family dysfunctional is such an understatement it’s laughable. Matriarch Gulla Slogum, a sullen, conniving, and ugly woman is driven by hurt pride and a need to dominate everyone and everything around her, no matter the cost.
If you remember Margo Martindale playing Mags in the television series Justified, you have some idea of Gulla Slogum, who oversees a family of thieves, murderers, and prostitutes. But Gulla is even more evil than Mags, and she lives a lot longer.
Published in 1937, the language and writing style is what you might expect from that time period – point-of-view switches from third person to omniscient, a page of history dropped in here and there, lots of description. In this case, all of that works perfectly. The sand hills of Nebraska, truly a character in the book, are beautifully described at every turn.
Everyone in this dark and violent book is tragic, only the degree of tragedy varies. A subtle love story intertwined throughout offers a little relief but the participants never get together, though both characters are admirable. I loved this book.
If you’re not planning a trip to Chadron, Nebraska, you can learn more about Mari Sandoz on her page with the Nebraska Education Location where you can even find a 1961 interview. Mari Sandoz died in 1966 in New York City, and was taken home for burial in the family farm, south of Gordon, Nebraska, in the sand hills.
Do you have a favorite author from the early 20th century? Who is it and what do you like about their writing?
To learn more about Patricia Grady Cox, visit her webpage. Thank you.