So last night I finished reading True Sisters by Sandra Dallas. I like Sandra Dallas. I’ve met her personally in Houston at the International Quilt Festival. I’ve enjoyed her books. Fun reads, many have quilt stories in them like the Persian Pickle Club and Alice’s Tulips. When I heard she’d written a book about the Martin Handcart Company, I immediately ordered it. Hardback, full price, well, Amazon.com price. I was excited to read it. I inserted it into my list of books I must read now pile, right at the top and got started. That was several weeks ago. I really tried to like the book. I made the effort, but I just kept putting it down. It doesn’t usually take me more than a month to finish a book. It’s usually something I do in a day or two. So why was this book so hard to get through?
Sandra Dallas wanted to write a story about the Mormon women who came west in the Martin Handcart Company. She wanted to tell how brave and strong they were. I immediately thought of Wallace Stegner’s comment about how the Mormon pioneers were stalwart, but the Mormon women were incredible (in the preface to Gathering to Zion). Having read 100s of Nauvoo and Pioneer journals in the last year, I was interested to see how she would portray these women.
Unfortunately, she elevated the women characters in her book at the expense of the men. There were several women in the story who’s lives we followed across the plains and through the snow and horrors of starvation and bitter cold. There were a few tender moments, but I found myself frustrated with her portrayal of the men these women walked beside. Each one had major character flaws. Every single one was exposed in undesirable ways, even to the last sentences of the book. It was as if the only way she could write to elevate the women was by creating flaws for the men. It was unbalanced, unrealistic and uncomfortable. They were bull-headed, rude, lustful, impatient, and unkind. They were or created the problems in every instance. It wore on me. I kept putting the book down, not caring to read on, but I finally did, last night. And then I wanted to tell people, “Read the Actual Accounts.” The story you find there is completely different than what Dallas tries to tell in this book. Besides that, I never once really felt the cold.
I’ve read the real thing, in their actual handwriting, or in transcriptions painstakingly made. They say the book is usually better than the movie. I say the journals are always better than the books. Such was the case here. Don’t bother with this book, go to the real source.