Monthly Archives: April 2011

Patricia MacLachlan: breaking my heart since 1988

“You don’t have to love this land,” said Maggie.” But if you don’t love it, you won’t won’t survive.  Jacob’s right. You have to write your name in the land to live here.” Sarah didn’t speak. She took a handful of dry prairie grass in her hands, letting it crumble through her fingers.  Then she walked away from us, through the dried grass, out onto the brown prairie that stretched all the way to the sky.  She stood there all alone until Papa went to tell her it was time to go home. 


Patricia MacLachlan breaks my heart. In Sarah, Plain and Tall, she broke my heart with singing. “Did mama sing every day? ”   [sigh…]       In Skylark, she breaks it with belonging.  “You have to love this land to live here.”

I love a book the most when I find my own story  swimming through the pages. I approach as a familiar friend and find comfort in knowing someone else is feeling this way, too. Sarah has been through a whole novel and a half and still doesn’t feel at home on the prairie with Jacob. I imagine she still has echoes of hunger pangs for the familiarity of Maine; for the feeling of being known.

A whole novel and a half.

Thank you, Patricia MacLachlan, for writing someone REAL. Real like a person who misses the familiar and kind land of home. Real like a heart that longs for something lost. Real like sadness. Real like me.

I’m on this page with Sarah, prairie dirt crumbling through my fingers. But I know what’s coming for Sarah. She will write her name in the land, the bitterness will melt, and she will call the prairie home.  I am careful here as a reader, though. I can’t assume that 1, Patricia MacLachlan has betrayed my heart and good writing for “happily ever after” or 2,  that Sarah writing her name in the land means she loves it. Not yet anyway. I think her affection follows her commitment. Not the reverse.   Ouch.

Like Sarah, I feel like I’ve lived a novel and a half this year and still feel new in my new “home.”  ( It’s typically not a good sign when you quote a word like “home”.. it’s like quoting a word like “truth” or “friend.”)

Enter current struggle: In my life, I commit when I love. If I don’t love, I simply don’t stay. A neighborhood, friendship, relationship. . . it’s all the same.

I miss what Sarah missed. I miss the gentleness of family. I miss the privilege of being known. I miss loving.

So. . .  What now? Do I pick up a stick and write my name in the ground in defiant hope?  Do I trust that love WILL follow commitment?  I guess I have to try. And if I do write my name in this land, maybe my bitterness will melt away, and maybe, just maybe I might even call this new place. . . Home.

That is going to be so hard to do.


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