by J. California Cooper
Beloved writer J. California Cooper has won a legion of loyal fans and much critical acclaim for her powerful storytelling gifts. In language both spare and direct yet wondrously lyrical, LIFE IS SHORT BUT WIDE is an irresistible story of family that proves no matter who you are or what you do, you are never too old to chase your dreams.
Like the small towns J. California Cooper has so vividly portrayed in her previous novels and story collections, Wideland, Oklahoma, is home to ordinary Americans struggling to raise families, eke out a living, and fulfill their dreams. In the early twentieth century, Irene and Val fall in love in Wideland. While carving out a home for themselves, they also allow neighbors Bertha and Joseph to build a house and live on their land. The next generation brings two girls for Irene and Val, and a daughter for Bertha and Joseph. As the families cope with the hardships that come with changing times and fortunes, and people are born and pass away, the characters learn the importance of living one’s life boldly and squeezing out every possible moment of joy.
Cooper brilliantly captures the cadences of the South and draws a picture of American life at once down-to-earth and heartwarming in this-as her wise narrator will tell you-“strange, sad, kind’a beautiful, life story.” It is a story about love that leads to the ultimate realization that whoever you are, and whatever you do, life is short, but it is also wide.
With another multigenerational, wonderfully crafted Midwest ensemble cast, Cooper (Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Suns) presents the town of Wideland, Okla., through the eyes of folksy nonagenarian Hattie B. Brown. This community sentinel, though sometimes short on memory, acts as tour guide and historian, introducing the town at the beginning of the 20th century, when the railroad first arrived and, with it, a growing population. Among the new residents, Hattie introduces the industrious, loving African-American cowboy Val Strong and his Cherokee "brother-friend" Wings; Val's hardened but beautiful wife, Irene Lowell; and their two strong-willed daughters, Rose and Tante. Following the Strong family and their associates through the better part of the 1900s, Hattie finds history running roughshod through their lives, crushing some and strengthening others, introducing new generations and obstacles to love, home and happiness. Cooper's characteristic motherly wit carries an appealing raft of characters through a world tougher than it is tender, but touched with beauty and wisdom. (Mar.)
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J. CALIFORNIA COOPER is the author of four novels, including, most recently, Some People, Some Other Place, and six collections of stories. She was honored as Black Playwright of the Year, and has received the American Book Award, the James Baldwin Writing Award, and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
Hardcover: 336 pages