by B.C. Walker
Idaho, 1885 and a young couple, Simeon and Esther Rapp, together with their eight-year-old daughter, Cassie, arrive to begin a new life as homesteaders. They quickly become central players in the pioneer community and Simeon is integral in irrigating the arid landscape.
Modern-day New York, and Emma Rose, an emerging star in the motivational speaking and business consultancy world is trying to cope with the death of her father whose wish is to be buried in a plot in a small Idaho town, the reason for which is a total mystery to Emma and her mother…
The Meadowlark is a lovely book, written with heart and subjectivity as well as a clear amount of research and planning. The novel begins as the Rapps arrive on their wagon in Willow Creek. There is an immediate sense of a living, changing place, the dust, the heat, and the excited apprehension of the family.
The reader is instantly immersed in this unforgiving landscape of hardship yet opportunity. The prose is nuanced with period detail, appearing soaked in the sepia tones of the age and bringing Willow Creek and its inhabitants richly to life.
The characters are quickly individual, authentic, and engaging. Cassie and Simeon especially. Their struggles and triumphs are wonderfully rendered, chiefly in relation to the engineering of the irrigation and the sheer hard labor, mental and physical, it takes to become a reality.
But, also their daily lives; Walker expertly details the socio-historical context of the homesteaders, their camaraderie, and how they changed the barren sagebrush landscape into a modern, functioning, and farmable environment.
Chapter 3 moves to the present day and Emma Rose. During these early chapters, Emma’s plotline contrasts awkwardly with the narrative of the 19th-century pioneers, which, is definitely the stronger story and far more engrossing; it’s a multi-generational sweeping historical saga and it takes a while for Emma’s story to settle and run cohesively alongside.
She can be a frustrating character who is slightly unlikeable and her behavioral patterns do not always follow credibly. Prone to overthinking and self-absorption, ironically, she does not always possess an awareness of how blunt her actions and words are toward others. There are reasons for this, but the tangent involving Jake, her ex-boyfriend, was unnecessary.
Nevertheless, the ambitious dual narrative begins to subtly knit together. Walker has ensured some deft little motifs run through both, from the overwhelming issue of water, literally for the Rapps and metaphorically for Emma as well as tangible mementos such as the heart pendant.
Several cleverly placed little signposts and genetic similarities filter through the generations to add hints to Emma’s puzzle and well-placed crumbs of foreshadowing for the reader. Walker has really considered the construct of how the stories will meet, and some lovely little flourishes of commonality thread through both.
An enormous amount of ground is covered in the novel, through the main genre of historical fiction, he explores themes of grief, neurodiversity, mental health, and adoption framed by some tender, loving relationships. There is also a huge unexpected twist at halfway, which is the catalyst for introducing an extremely pivotal character.
Emma’s narrative is primarily concerned with solving the family mystery through a journey of self-discovery although there is also a generous helping of sweet romance. Indeed, her relationship with Topher Jones adds depth to her portrayal.
As the two narratives begin to dovetail, The Meadowlark becomes hard to put down. There is one family secret that only eventually the reader will know, it’s an unpleasant truth and, in the spirit of the book’s conclusion, Walker made the right decision in keeping it from being revealed.
The Meadowlark is a solidly entertaining and absorbing debut novel that delivers a series of emotional punches through an intriguing and all-encompassing narrative. Well worth a read.