These is My Words has been out since 2008, so my wholehearted two thumbs up for this book may seem a day late and a dollar short. Shame on me, because if it hadn’t been for somebody in our book club suggesting Turner’s book, I would have missed it entirely.
What’s not to find thoroughly captivating in this debut novel by Nancy E. Turner? This is Ms. Turner’s successful attempt to bring the story of her great-grandmother to life. If you read the notes at the end of the novel, you find that Turner intended to write a biographical story of Sarah Prine, her great-grandmother, but eventually the powerful draw of actual historical events took her into the realm of historical fiction. Turner, with the help of written and oral family history, does a masterful job of imagining Sarah’s life at the end of the nineteenth century in Arizona when it was still a U.S. Territory.
The first person narrative unfolds on every page of Sarah Prine’s diary. “A storm is rolling in, and that always makes me a little sad and wistful so I got it in my head to set to paper all these things that have got us this far on our way through this heathen land.” Turner’s use of a diary for the voice and point of view of Sarah, although not a new device, is here totally fresh and the perfect way to introduce this remarkable woman. Sarah is a force to be reckoned with: she can shoot better than her brothers, rope and brand a calf as handily as any ranch hand and has a mind just waiting for everything that comes her way. She lives, marries, parents and matures in the heart of the Arizona Territory, at a time when the civility of Statehood was still a distant hope.
These is My Words has everything: murder, love, horses, husbands, love, children, disease, floods, droughts, bandits, Comanches, Mexicans, and love, which is as much a part of Sarah Prine as the loaded pistol she keeps in her apron pocket. A hearty thank you to Nancy Turner. I only wish Sarah Prine had been my great-grandmother.