Marshall's protagonist, Frances Bingham, is a poor girl of some social standing who marries into a Minnesota family with pretensions to wealth and power. The Binghams are associated with the Northern Pacific Railroad and are unwittingly used by even wealthier and greedier folks to control some of the early farmland in what would become North Dakota. Frances marries the Bingham son so she can be close to the real object of her affection, her husband's invalid sister, Anna. The attraction between the women creates the emotional subtext of Marshall's Dakota, but she shows exquisite restraint in her portrayal of the fear and barely acknowledged repression that controls their lives. To say that this is the "love that dare not speak its name" would be far too easy for these characters. It is a love that the characters cannot even allow themselves to recognize. But into this picture comes Kirsten Knudson, the daughter of penniless Norwegian homesteaders, who is one of the strongest and most winning characters I've met in any recent book. To my mind, she becomes the spiritual heart of this large and absorbing chronicle of one American moment and the people living through it. I'll leave you to discover her on your own.
Brenda Marshall reads from Dakota at Nicola's Books on November 10 and discusses it at the Hatcher Library Author's Forum on November 17.
[Originally published in November, 2010.]