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Book Review: American Cream by Catherine Tudish

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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.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.
  • Susan Brison

    American Cream is a beautifully written, emotionally insightful, and thoroughly engaging novel. I loved it–and so have the friends I’ve given it to!

  • Margot Livesey

    After reading Catherine Tudish’s first book, a wonderful collection of linked stories called Tenney’s Landing, I came to her novel American Cream with the highest expectations and I am happy to say that they were entirely fulfilled. Tudish writes beautifully and empathetically about a whole range of characters and I loved the horses. This is an absorbing and deeply satisfying novel.

  • Chris Doyle

    Nothing really to add except to echo all the favorable remarks in the review and the other commenters

  • Micki Colbeck

    Tudish is a wonderful writer. Both of her books have become old friends.

  • Rose Nash

    The characters in Catherine Tudish’s American Cream are depthful, and their hopes, fears, successes, and losses resonate. Virginia’s interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts are complex and believable.

  • kathie mitchell

    Very enjoyable and characters probably more real than we know. I read it straight through to about 20 pages from the end and then put it down for awhile because I didn’t want it to end.

  • I second all the opinions in this review. This is the kind of book that is so hard to put down; it’s romantic, funny, poignant. And a GREAT book group book.

  • Harriet Oman

    Loved this second book by Catherine Tudish. Her characters are warm and memorable, a pleasant and comfortable read. You are hoping for things to turn out well!!!!

  • Lynda Roseman

    Tudish’s beautful books should not be overlooked. They are jewels of American literature.