It's a story of hardship, suffering, tragedy and loss, love and forgiveness. And, despite the tragedy, Sandra Dallas' Prayers for Sale is a story told with joy.
As in earlier books, such as The Persian Pickle Club, Dallas takes readers back to the Depression, this time to 1936 in Middle Swan, Colorado. Middle Swan is a mining community high in the mountains. It's been home to Hennie Comfort for seventy of her eighty-six years, although her daughter, Mae, is now insisting she spend winters with her in Iowa. So, Hennie is not looking forward to her future when she meets Nit Spindle.
When Hennie first sees Nit, she's standing in the snow at Hennie's gate, eyeing the sign that says "Prayers for Sale". Nit begs the older woman for a prayer for a baby. Nit quickly left, but her southern accent and her request tugged on Hennie's heart. Nit, a seventeen year old from Kentucky, married just two years, reminded Hennie of her own stories, since she married young in Tennessee, and watched her young husband disappear as a Confederate soldier. Hennie told of her youth, and, then, as she learned Nit's background, she slowly revealed the stories of her life, as the two women quilted together. It wasn't an easy life, but Hennie was a strong woman who overcame tragedy, and she hopes her life stories will help Nit overcome the bad times in her own life.
Sandra Dallas' books are not appreciated as they should be. Perhaps it's because they are books about the lives of women. But, they are not as simple as they appear. Prayers for Sale looks to be a book about an old woman's story, but it's so much more. The book spans the time period from the Civil War in Tennessee through Prohibition and the Depression in Colorado. Hennie's memories include life in a mining community, a brutal life of miners' deaths, whorehouses, and women or infants that die in childbirth. Throughout the book, Hennie's eyes view her life and community with love, and she sees the beauty in the land she has grown to cherish. Maybe Dallas' books aren't appreciated because she knows how important women were to life and death of communities, and how important it was for those women to be there for each other. Quilting is a device she uses in so many of her books, to show the need women have to get together and share their lives.
Hennie Comfort may be the storyteller, but Sandra Dallas puts magic in the words and phrases. When Nit and Hennie first meet, Nit asks about the sign, Prayers for Sale, and Hennie says, "That sign's older than God's old dog." The music in Hennie's words catches the reader up, just as much as it does Nit. Prayers for Sale is a book that will stay with me, just as Dallas' The Persian Pickle Club and Tallgrass still linger in my memory.
Sandra Dallas' website is www.sandradallas.com
Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780312385187 (hardcover), 320p.