The Bachelor Farmers: Brenda Sorrels
Family ties often bind brothers together in times of adversity, sadness and life in general. As the story opens we meet the Gustafson family as they each say their own special goodbyes to their father. The flu epidemic of 1918 is the focus of the prologue and triggers the events that follow for this family as the dynamics change after the death of their father. Four brothers bound together each receiving a piece of the family’s property. Bjorn, Emil, Hans and Jon Gustafson each receive an equal share of their father’s holdings as the property was equally distributed among all four. Hans and Jon, the bachelors of the family both inherited the family’s homestead plus the land surrounding it. But, this is not where our story begins. As the brothers deal with their individual bequests, expand their holdings; create more lucrative businesses we learn more about Jon and Hans. The author shares the background of this Norwegian family, how hard the father worked, the lengths he went to in order to provide for his family and the pride he took in all of his sons. Living in Minnesota is not easy. The cold weather, the blinding snowstorms, the winters that would affect their crop and harvesting the land are just some of the hardships these brothers and their parents faced living in Minnesota. However, the closeness, the ties that bound them together and that bind any family together often fray or wither when something or someone changes it.
As the two married brothers take hold of their inheritances and proceed with their own goals, our two bachelors work hard to improve their homestead, expand their businesses and hopefully reap the benefits held within the rich forests they inherited. But, a visit to the logging site would change many lives and that’s where things take on a different turn. As we meet Elias at the logging site we learn more about a young Indian girl named Mahal. Living on the Ojibwa reservation was no longer an option for her as her husband was injured and she needed to find a way to earn money to support him and his family. But, what we learn about her husband is truly heartbreaking as he’s abusive, violent and dangerous. Mahal is a young woman caught in web that is so tangled and so knotted she cannot get out of it. Half white and half Indian she is often ostracized by others. Working in the logging site helped her pay for her husband’s medical needs and provide food for his family on the reservation. But, when that job comes to an end Mahal would have to go back or find work somewhere else.
Coming to the logging site and learning that Mahal’s husband was injured on his land, Jon becomes her champion and hires her as his cook as well as housekeeper. Without giving any thought to how Hans would react to the news of her living there he ushers her into their home hoping he too will accept her. Taking her home, showing her around and trying to make her comfortable, the reader begins to feel the tension within Jon, the conflict he is facing as he develops feelings for this young girl from the onset. Hans returns home and learns about Mahal and demands that Jon send her back to the reservation when her husband is well. The tension builds between them and their lives change.
Christmas is supposed to be a festive time and Jon invites his entire family over for a special dinner. But, when Mahal appears, the brothers do not welcome her, their wives criticize her and the air of prejudice permeates stronger than the scent of the delicious food being served. The children seem to adjust to her but the adults have heated conversations about her living with both Hans and Jon. Learning that she’s married set off heated discussions as her fate rested in more than one pair of hands. The townspeople as well as Jon’s family thought Mahal living with two single men was inappropriate. Hans, although he resented her intrusion into their lives at first, decides to allow her to stay in order to keep things at an even keel at home.
Listening to the family speak about Mahal you learn about the misconceptions, misunderstandings and the narrow minded attitudes of those living during this time period. All Indians are not to be trusted some relate. People who are different should live apart from them. Relationships are hard for Hans to handle and when it comes to women his are almost adolescent. One night stands, nothing permanent, using women to expel his needs; he is the total opposite of Jon. Jon is caring, loving and kind to Mahal and you can see throughout the novel that his feelings for her deepen each day even though he knows it’s wrong. When faced with a possible solution Hans rejects having Mahal leave to work somewhere else. Stating that their problem would soon be solved, as her husband was on the mend he skirted the issue, fabricated the truth and hopefully staved off any more rumors about Mahal and Jon. But, each time she left to see her husband her return would draw Jon’s concern for her even more as little injuries would be seen and he had trouble from saying anything about them.
Sometimes circumstances change things and the end result is out of your control. When a huge Blizzard hits Gustafson Corridor, Mahal is all-alone, the snow is piling up and her fear for Jon is quite evident. But, praying to the Great Spirit, she hopes will bring Jon home safely but what happens changes everything. The storm rages so furiously and Jon does not come home and as he door flies open it is Hans that she welcomes. From this point on the situation becomes electrifying, the dynamics change and what happens between Mahal and Hans is right out of a perfect fairytale romance filled with warmth, fire and sparks.
Three distinct voices are heard throughout the novel Jon, whose conflict within himself when trying to come to grips with his emotions and feelings for Mahal, fighting to keep them under control and hesitant to interfere with her life with her husband. Next, we learn more about Hans and how during the blizzard he and Mahal bond in a unique way in order to whether the storm and stay warm. Mahal’s voice is quite distinct as she shares tender moments with both brothers but which one does she really care for the most? Spending three days alone with Hans during the storm would change things for all three of them in many ways. What happens and the startling revelation made by Mahal will surprise the reader and make you wonder just what is next for her and if things will drastically change and if so how. If a storm could become the climax or turning point of events in someone’s life this one will impact all three. How can Hans face Jon after what happens during the storm? Will he tell him the truth? Lies, deceits, prejudice, abuse and love all play an integral part in this outstanding heartfelt novel of a family whose love for each other was tested as a result of one act of kindness. Thinking about the past three days, hoping that things would never change, Mahal reflects on the decisions made, what she feels needs to be done and her future. Causing a rift between Hans and Jon was not her intention. The fact that it weighted down on her mind, was the reason she could not sleep. What will her final decision be? Will she leave and return home or will she find a way to remain?
When gossip fills the air and Mahal listens to the ramblings she’s torn between going home or remaining. But, when her husband shows up what she decides to do she feels is right for everyone. But, is it? One cold harsh winter storm changes more than just the landscape. Author Brenda Sorrels brings to light so many vital issues but one rings true more than the rest: Family Ties: Will they fray, tear and come apart forever or will something stronger bind them together?
Years pass, their lives change and both brothers bury themselves in the land. Neither marry, not interested in having a wife, both lost in their thoughts about Mahal and then Jon meets a young horse trainer Nathaniel when purchasing a mare named Dreamcatcher.
An ending that will bring many pieces together and rip others apart. Just who is Nathaniel and what happens when Jon realizes the truth about Hans and Mahal? Truths, lies, deceits and two men who lived their lives remembering one special Ojibwa woman. Author Brenda Sorrel presents a story that is true to life, realistic and so heartfelt and yet tragic. Jon and Hans each loved Mahal. What was her fate? Where did they both end up and what happens that would forever change the lives of these Bachelor Farmers. A story so vividly depicted and characters so perfectly crafted this is one novel that I read in one hour because I could not put it down. It draws you in and does not let you go until you read the last page and hope that there is more to come. There is one mystery that is hidden and not solved. What is next for this family?
Fran Lewis: reviewer