The Long Journey Home by Minnesota writer Laurel Means brings out the pioneer spirit in all of us. Set in the post-civil war Americas, this is a book about endurance and hardships, love and loss, settling and moving through the difficulties of life.
: The Long Journey Home, by Laurel Means. Academy Chicago Publishers 2008
The novel starts out a little on the slow side with veteran soldier, Henry Morton, returning home after four long years of war. He discovers his wife is dead, his daughter has run away, and his two sons want to start their own lives in the city. Because of his service in the military, Morton is granted 160 acres of land in Green Prairie, Minnesota, and makes the brave decision to leave everything and start over.
Lonely and looking for comfort, Morton impregnates and later marries a young, inexperienced French girl, Agnes.
“Bringing a bride home before the cabin was ready was the last thing he expected. He felt torn between embarrassment and resentment. He noticed Agnes looking around the room and wished she’d say something – anything.”
The characters are complex and well-written, and the story picks up speed when Morton discovers a plot to stop him from keeping his land.
“Morton here has a complaint to file, Sheriff,” explained Ryberg. “Seems some men are after him, a couple of them here in town you know. Thinks they burned down his place as well.”
“Know about the fire, happened last Thursday. Went out there myself to investigate.”
“And now his wife is missing.”
At first, it seems quite jarring to hear Minnesota towns spoken about, but soon it seems natural. A sense of history and pride will fill every Minnesotan, native or transplant.
“As I walked out into the wilderness of this world” is a line that Morton keeps reciting as he struggles to keep his life together. What both characters come to realize is that there is wilderness and wildness all around them, but with love and friendship they are never alone. This exceptional novel brings us a coming-of-age for Agnes and a rediscovery of self for Morton.
Melissa Slachetka is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Minneapolis and contributes regularly to the Daily Planet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org