Thursday, April 1, 2010

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

At some point I decided I wanted to learn to quilt. My mom and I joined a group of retirees who quilted together on Wednesdays, making one quilt a year. They agreed to teach us the basics. One quilt square later I put the quilting down but picked up an appreciation for the difficulty of careful piecing. During our conversations one of the women mentioned the book The Persian Pickle Club, a novel whose central theme is quilting. Both my mom and I read it, thankful to our indirect introduction to Sandra Dallas’ works. Since then neither of us have become master quilters, but we have both read all of Sandra Dallas’ books. Prayers for Sale could be one of my favorites (or Tallgrass… or maybe The Persian Pickle Club), although I would not have said as much until nearly the end of the book.

Dallas has a very specific audience for her novels; most of them deal with the history of the American West and/or Midwest, often Colorado. And quilting usually plays some role in the story. Prayers for Sale is not an exception. The story revolves around two women living in a small mining town in Depression-era Colorado. To be honest, the subject did not appeal to me overmuch (yes I’m a historian but I have always found Colorado history to be booooring). When I read the acknowledgements at the beginning I was not won over either. It appeared that the book was a series of short stories woven together to tell a larger plot. If not done well, woven together stories can be tedious.

There are certain chapters which I felt were heavy-handed in creating a logic to combine the main narrative and the individual story. From time to time it felt too contrived. However, the end redeemed the whole book. When I am sitting in public transportation trying to keep myself from crying over the conclusion of a story, I consider the book a success. Dallas wove together all the disparate stories in an admittedly convenient way but an overall appealing and reflective way. By the end of the book I appreciated the various stories because they did explain the main character whose role was to be a storyteller to keep the history of the area alive.

My mom (the only other person I know whose read all of Dallas’ books and the one who gives me the books to read) has suggested more than once that Dallas’ novels would be effective in a history classroom. She is successful at weaving together accurate historical detail with sympathetic literary characters. While I don’t know many teachers who would take the time to let students explore the stories in a novel, I can see a very genuine place for Dallas’ works – it would engage students who find the standard lecture/note history class unappealing. And it might introduce a whole new generation to both storytelling and quilting.

All in all, a book I am very glad I read.

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