Book Review: Steeple in the Distance by Deborah Ude

In my efforts to bring you ever more obscure and difficult to find books that you absolutely must read, I present to you, Steeple in the Distance.  How obscure and difficult to find, you may ask?  Well, as far as I’m aware, there are only two possible locations in which to get this book.  You can either get it through the CLC Bookhouse or through the author herself.  How did I happen to get my hands on a copy?  Well, the author just so happens to be the mother of one of my closest high school friends, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give it a read.

At first glance, I fear many of you may be turned off by the fact that it sells itself as a wholly Lutheran piece of fiction.  I’m not going to lie to you, there is definitely discussions about God which occur throughout the novel.  But the heart of this story is so much more than that, so I truly hope that you give it a chance (should you find it in your hunt for great reads).  Set in the early 1900s, this is a beautiful period piece which painstakingly showcases what life was like at the time before and during the first world war for those living in the Midwest.  You see simple country life for a small family going through the crisis of losing their mother.  You see how something which today is still quite tragic, was capable of causing life to be almost impossible.

Even more than that, Ude does a marvelous job of striking impressively detailed images of a life without electricity (at first), phone lines (at first), and the Internet.  Where the car was something that you used only if absolutely necessary.  And where church was the main social gathering of the week.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Little House on the Prairie books,   Yet these are not books intended for young readers, these are books that are written for readers with a verbose vocabulary who can appreciate a talented writer taking her keyboard out for a long ride.

I honestly can’t express how fully impressed I was by this debut outing for a new writer.  Every page was filled with the results of dedicated research and endless knowledge of a life that disappeared well before the author was even born, a world that was quickly changed at the coming of the world war.

But even more than the detail and the quality of writing, is the uplifting tale of the central character, Nan, who time and again shows her dedication to keeping her family afloat and alive, although it might (and actually does, on several occasions) cause her bodily harm.  Nan is a great example of a strong female character capable of existing within the old world where feminism wasn’t quite yet the twinkle in the world’s eye.  Where women’s place was in the kitchen because the men were out in the fields all day.  Where the difference between man’s work and woman’s work was more a case of tradition and necessity than it was about keeping people within their gender roles.  Nan, among all this, is capable of showing that just because she was doing woman’s work, it wasn’t because it was what was expected of her.  In fact, over and over throughout the text, she chooses it, because she knows her family needs it.

I could go on and on about how spectacular this book is, but honestly, you should just read it. Seriously.  You can borrow mine, if you want.

For now, at least check out Deb’s blog where you can get little tastes of her poetic prose.


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