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When Water Was Everywhere Paperback – May 14, 2016
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About the Author
- Publisher : Lagoon House Press, LLC (May 14, 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 350 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0997260904
- ISBN-13 : 978-0997260908
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.78 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,849,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The tale begins with Henry Scott, a young man who has made the journey from Saint Louis to the nascent pueblo of Los Angeles in the 1840s, arriving half dead. He is taken up by a local merchant of substance, given shelter and then a job. Scott despite his youth is deeply scarred, and so socially inept that his sterling character takes some time to become apparent. His employer is driven by carefully concealed vanity, but Scott is too lost in his own fears to make any kind of assessment of the man he's working for. Nevertheless, and despite a lack of applicable skills, he stumbles into success as the foreman of the ranch his employer is creating a day's journey south of the pueblo. Scott is tasked with supervising the vaqueros who tend the cattle and the Indians who are building the house. Though the vaqueros remain beyond his management, Scott earns the fealty of the Indian laborers by virtue of not being gratuitously abusive. In turn, he becomes fascinated with one of the Indian women, named Big Headed Girl.
At this point the story takes a turn, for we leave Scott's story for a time and turn to hers. This can be a tricky strategy for a novelist, but Barbara Crane shows herself in firm command of vocabulary, tone, and point of view as she depicts Alta California as seen through the eyes of its original human inhabitants. The shift takes us from a world in which the land's potential seems limitless to one marked by accelerating loss and scarcity. The section of the book that is told from Big Headed Girl's vantage point is riveting and heartbreaking.
There is a third narrator after that, an aging padre in charge of the Mission San Gabriel just as control of the missions is being wrested away from the clergy. In the end the three stories converge in a poignant scene set against a backdrop of heedless revelry. It is a suitably restrained climax to a story marked by characters who all seem unable to reveal their true self to others.
The prose is straightforward and readable but eloquently evokes the setting. Based on what I know about Los Angeles in this era and the natural history of the region and it's indigenous people, the author's research is excellent but she rarely hits you over the head with her knowledge. Instead the story felt grounded in a well-realized place, the characters' actions and beliefs suited to the time they inhabit.
I deeply enjoyed reading this book, which I won in a giveaway. As someone who has spent her career as an editor, I shake my head anew at the obtuseness of an industry that relegates a book this good to the backwaters of the publishing world. It deserves far more recognition than it has received.
Sometimes a writer cannot resist showing off their research. Any book, particularly a historical novel, requires a great deal of reading if the past it presents is realistic. Often this is a problem because it means the author forgot to come up with a compelling plot. This does not have to be the case, as Barbara Crane proves in When Water Was Everywhere. Set in 1840s Los Angeles, her novel uses the realization of the Californios that the United States would probably soon take over control of their province (then still a part of Mexico). Some hopeful, others fearful, all await the changes this transfer will cause.
As with any good California story, there is a clash of cultures here. Young Henry Scott, escaping an abusive father back East, arrives in the pueblo looking for work. Don Rodrigo Tilman, another American expatriate, becomes his patron and hires him to build his new rancho. In doing so, Henry meets the people of Los Angeles from Mexican vaqueros to a Franciscan friar who embodies both the cruelty of the mission system and the love of this paradise. Most importantly, the strong-willed Tongva woman he meets at the rancho and comes to love. Henry's experiences show the beauty of the land and the ways in which it could be deceptive to those who loved it.
Barbara Crane's research is on display throughout the book. Her chapters on Tongva life are especially thorough. She even makes a Los Angeles with plentiful water believable. None of this distracts from her story. When Water Was Everywhere provides an affecting look at a paradise in transition and the people who will be shaped by it.