Book Club Spotlight – The Rim of the Prairie

Cover for The Rim of the Prairie. A photo of the Nebraska Prairie, with the large open sky taking up the majority of the cover.

Today, as we prepare for another Nebraska summer, we will be reading a classic of Nebraska literature, Rim of the Prairie by Bess Streeter Aldrich. Born in Iowa, Aldrich moved to Elmwood, Nebraska, with her husband and child in her late 20s.  Aldrich’s writing became a full-time job when her husband passed away in 1925, shortly after sending in the manuscript for what would become her first full-length novel, The Rim of the Prairie. Though not a native Nebraskan, Aldrich fully embraced the state as her own. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Nebraska and inducted posthumously into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1973. Her book A Lantern in Her Hand was the 2009 One Book One Nebraska.

Small and midwestern is Maple City when young banker Warner Field retreats to a lonely cabin on the Moore property for a vacation focused on his once great love for writing. While there, he happens upon artifacts of a young girl who once used the cabin. Small journal entries, a china doll, and an old photograph lead him to believe the owner of these items is long passed on. He finds fascination in her lush descriptions of the prairie all around him, her poetic styling and love for her surroundings touch him deeply. Through the journals, he learns of an mysterious tragedy, the girl’s entries abruptly stopping on her 18th birthday as she prepares to run away. Only a day before he departs from the cabin,  22-year-old Nancy Moore steps off the train and arrives home in Maple City for the first time in 4 years after her disappearance.

“There was something about the lunch that was gayer than usual. An atmosphere of fun pervaded it, a sense of exhilaration was upon every one. Nancy Moore seemed in some inexplicable way to be responsible for it. There was something infectious about her approval of life”

Bess Streeter Aldrich

This unassuming Nebraskan mystery romance contains a portrait of rural life during the turn of the century. Maple City and its inhabitants coexist in their own peculiar but charming and folksy ways with their own secrets kept close to their chests. In The Rim of the Prairie, Aldrich weaves her thoughts on life, her love for her husband, and the day-to-day foils and perseverance of prairie life. Appropriate for Book Groups of all ages, readers can enjoy the lush descriptions of the prairie in contrast with the bustling small town trying to stretch its wings into the modern day, and the mystery of the brown shawl. Encouraged to read by my mother, (Happy late Mother’s Day!) The Rim of the Prairie was one of the first books I read that took place in Nebraska. It gave me the words to shape my cultural identity and knowledge of our greater social landscape. As Aldrich said herself,  “I tried to do my bit in helping preserve a little of the spirit of these pioneers in fiction”.   

If you’re interested in requesting The Rim of the Prairie for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 10 copies available. (A librarian must request items)

Aldrich, Bess Streeter. The Rim of the Prairie. University of Nebraska Press. 1966

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