If wishes were horses, they'd be American Cream draft horses in Catherine Tudish's debut novel, American Cream. Evocative and beautifully written, American Cream is a gem of book that will draw you in and transport you as only a well-told story can.
Virginia McLeod has returned to the farm in southwestern Pennsylvania where she grew up. Her father Nathan, nearing 70, fell off the tractor and broke his arm; no milking cows or haying fields for him this summer. So Virginia packed up her teenage son, left her surgeon husband in Maryland, and headed back to the life she left as a young woman when she went off to college.
Virginia's mother Caroline died a couple of years ago, and now Nathan is married to Lydia, the woman who used to work in the school cafeteria. As the summer unfolds and her father recovers, Virginia grapples with her father's new life, reconnects with her best friend Henny, and faces her first true love, West.
Most of all, Virginia must confront her unacknowledged desire to keep the past alive, a hope that is embodied for her by American Cream horses. With white manes and cream-colored coats, they are smaller than some draft horses but smart, sweet tempered, and beautiful to see. They are at once a link to history, when plows were pulled by such horses, and a gambit for the future, that may or may not pay off.
American Cream captures life on the American family-owned farm–a hard way of life that is giving way to modern commerce and concerns–but it transcends place and could be the story of any woman's loves and losses. The writing is graceful, smooth as silk and light as real whipped cream. The narrative focuses on Virginia, but Tudish adopts the interesting convention of interspersing chapters here and there in the other characters' voices, a technique that is extremely effective. The result is both down-to-earth and literary, with characters that are completely human and utterly believable and themes that are as deep and rich as the western Pennsylvania soil.
American Cream is the kind of book where you get swept up into the lives of the characters and you miss them when you're done. I, for one, would love to hear more farmlands southeast of Pittsburgh. Happily, Tudish has also published a collection of short stories set in the same area, called Tenney's Landing. I also look forward to wherever Catherine Tudish takes us in the future.Powered by Sidelines