Kipling Book Club
Country of the Heart by Sharon Butala
Discussion rating 2/5
The book is set in the prairies in the early 1980's when farms still earned profits. The novel examines the life of two women who contradict each other. In her early 40s, Iris is seemingly happily married to Barney, a rancher-turned-farmer. Unexpectedly, she falls in love with an old man who still exudes the aura of his cowboy legends. In contrast, Iris's troubled niece, Lannie, presents an aloofness and mystery that troubles Iris's superficial life of tranquillity. When Lannie discovers Iris's affair, she realizes the imperfections of a "role model". As a result of this discovery, Lannie fights her own problems and almost loses.
There were many comments on Iris's lack of passion and our own desire for more descriptions of Iris's family background. The plot line doesn't give believable reasons as to why Iris and Barney never had children. We expected that the author could have found something in Iris's background to explain this better.
To one member, Iris exemplified the emptiness experienced by many small-town and rural women. When a woman is "trapped" in this life, she must not delve into her soul. If she does question her life, then dissatisfaction and resentment would have to be dealt with to reach fulfillment. Sometimes, this questioning would lead to an abrupt departure from a predictable, safe although hollow life. Iris remains true to this role.
It is quite apparent that this is the author's first novel. In the beginning, the writing is quite pedantic as the author attempts to describe everything. For example, "the wet, gleaming bodies of cars hissing past them" and "she set her suitcase down, while she brushed her hair out of her eyes and shifted her bag back onto her shoulder."
Lannie's character fits the model of the child with the absentee father. So much of the book was predictable making it light, easy reading.
More character development would have occurred if the author had described some of the routines in Iris and Barney's life, and shown interaction with the rest of the community. As the book is written, the family lives their life in isolation which doesn't ring true to rural life.
The marriage reveals Iris's complete lack of understanding of her own husband's character, which is hard to believe after so many years of marriage.
The members also discussed Barney's character. It almost seemed that Barney's sexual attraction to Lannie was an after thought, an attempt to make him more rounded as a character. Admirably, he withstands the sexual temptation quite nobly.
Even though discussion lagged in this book, we are willing to try Butala's acclaimed sequel The Garden of Eden.