My latest audible “read/listen” was One for the Blackbird One for The Crow by Olivia Hawker. The story takes place in 1870 on a desolate Wyoming prairie, a good 20 miles from the nearest town. When Ernest Bemis finds his wife, Cora, having sex with their only neighbor, Substance Webber, Ernest shoots and kills Substance. Ernest turns himself in and is sentenced to two years in prison. With winter approaching, Cora asks Substance’s widow, Nettie Mae, if the two families could share resources. Nettie Mae refuses at first, but when her only child, Clyde, is weakened by fever, she agrees to let Cora and her four (4) children move into her home. It is a long, hard winter for these two women to live under the same roof.
The novel has four distinct narrative strands, with one in the first person and three written in third-person from the perspective of a different narrator. The first strand is told by Beulah Bemis, the thirteen-year-old daughter of Ernest and Cora. Beulah is almost otherworldly. She has an uncanny ability to see death, find beauty in the ordinary, and a very calm demeanor. She enjoys working with Clyde, caring for the crops and animals, mending fences, and other chores. The second strand is the narration of sixteen-year-old Clyde Webber, the only surviving child of Substance and Nettie Mae. With his father dead, Clyde must take over the family’s sheep farm. On the verge of manhood, he is trying not to be like his cruel father. The third story is from Nettie Mae Webber, who is described at least a dozen times as “bitter”. She has lost four of her children, and now her husband. She despises Cora, and hates that they must work together. She seethes every time she looks at Cora, but dearly loves the three youngest Bemis children. Clyde is all she has left and Nettie Mae is determined to keep him away from the lure of Beulah Bemis. Finally, there is the narration from Cora Bemis’s perspective. She is very remorseful for her affair, which was done out of boredom. She hates living on the prairie and longs to go back to society life she had known as a young girl in St. Louis. On one hand, she wants to get her children to the city and send Ernest a message about where they have gone. On the other hand, she is afraid that once he is released from prison, Ernest will choose the farm over her if she leaves.
The title is based on an old planting rhyme. “One for the blackbird, One for the crow, One for the cutworm and One to grow.” Beulah explains to Clyde that you should put four seeds in one spot to have enough to feed all creatures that come to the garden, including crows and grubs. It is the perfect rhyme for the way these two young people are able to combine their land, their skills, and their families to make sure there is enough for everyone.
The audible narration is 19 hours, 2 minutes long, and the hardcover is 493 pages. I have several friends who have given this a 5-star rating on Goodreads. It is written in a quiet, poetic manner. There are strong themes of friendship, survival, family, love, and forgiveness. I am only giving it 4-stars since it seemed to move very slowly at times, and there were repetitive stories of the same event told by different narrators.