The Round Earth Series
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Willow Words
Date of Publication: January 31, 2015
Number of pages: 472
Word Count: 130,000
In 1885 Iowa, Sara Moore is a dutiful daughter, but when her father tries to force her to marry his younger partner, she must choose between the partner—a man who treats her like property—and James Youngblood—a kind man she hardly knows who has a troubled past.
When she confronts her father, he beats her and turns her out of the house, breaking all ties, so she decides to elope with James to Kansas City with hardly a penny to their names.
In the tradition of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Earth’s Imagined Corners is a novel that comprehends the great kindnesses and violences we do to each other.
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Anamosa, Iowa, 1885
Sara Moore should have nothing to fear this week. She had been meticulous in her entering into the ledger the amounts that Minnie the cook requested she spend on groceries. She had remembered, just, to include her brother Ed’s purchase of materials to mend sister Maisie’s doll house and to subtract the pickling salt that she had purchased for sister Esther but for which Esther’s husband Gerald had reimbursed her. She stood at her father’s shoulder as he went over the weekly household accounts, and even though her father owned Moore Grocer & Sundries from which she ordered the family’s groceries, he still insisted she account for the full price in the ledger. “No daughter of mine,” he often said, though sometimes he would finish the thought and sometimes his neatly trimmed eyebrows would merely bristle.
Despite the buttressing of her corset, Sara hunched forward, somewhat reducing her tall frame. She intertwined her fingers so that she would not fiddle with the gathers of soft navy wool in her overskirt, and she tried not to breathe too loudly, so as not to bother him, nor to breathe too deeply, in order to take in little of the cigar smoke curling up from his elephant-ivory ashtray on the hulking plantation desk.
As always, the heavy brocade curtains armored Colonel Moore’s study against the Iowa day, so the coal oil lamps flickered in their brackets. Per instructions, Sipsy the maid lit them early every morning, snuffed them when he left for the grocery, lit them again in anticipation of his return at seven, and then snuffed them again after he retired. It was an expense, surely, but one that Sara knew better than to question. The walls of the study were lined with volumes of military history and maps of Virginia and Georgia covered in lines, symbols, and labels carefully inked in Colonel Moore’s hand. In its glass case on the bureau rested Colonel Moore’s 1851, an intricately engraved pistol awarded to him during the War of Northern Aggression. Sipsy dusted daily, under stern directive that not a speck should gather upon any surface in the room.
Sara’s father let out a sound between an outlet of breath and a groan. This was not good. He was not pleased. Sara straightened her shoulders and took a breath and held it but let her shoulders slump forward once more.
“My dear,” he said, his drawl at a minimum, “your figures, once again, are disproportionate top to bottom. And there is too much slant, as always, in their curvatures. I urge you to practice your penmanship.” His tone was one of indulgence.
Inaudibly, Sara let out her breath. If he was criticizing her chirography, then he had found nothing amiss in the numbers. The accounts were sound for another week. Later, when he checked the numbers against the accounts at the grocery, there was less of a chance that she had missed something.
He closed the ledger, turned his chair, and with both hands held the ledger out to her. She received it palms up and said, “I will do better, Father.”
“You would not want to disappoint to your mother.” His drawl was more pronounced.
So he had regretted his indulgence and was not satisfied to let her go unchecked. His wife, Sara’s mother, had been dead these five years, and since then Sara had grown to take her place, running the household, directing the servants, and caring for six year-old Maisie. Ed needed little looking after, as he was older than Sara, though unmarried, and Esther, the oldest, was married with two daughters and farm of her own.
Sara straightened her shoulders again and hugged the ledger to her chest. “Yes, Father,” she said and turned and left the room, trying to keep her pace tranquil and unhurried. She went to the kitchen, where Minnie had a cup of coffee doused with cream and sugar awaiting her. Minnie gave her an encouraging smile, and though Sara did not acknowledge what went unsaid between them—one must shun familiarity with the servants—she lifted her shoulders slightly and said, “Thank you, Minnie.” Minnie, with the round figure and dark eyes of a Bohemian, understood English well, though she still talked with a pronounced accent, and Sara had only heard her speak the round vowels and chipped consonants of her native tongue once, when a delivery man indigenous to her country of origin walked into the kitchen with mud on his boots. Sara tucked the ledger in its place on a high shelf and then allowed herself five minutes of sipping coffee amid the wonderful smells of Minnie’s pompion tart. Then she rose, rinsed her cup, and applied herself to her day.
The driver had Father’s horse and gig waiting, as always, at twenty minutes to nine. As Father stretched his fingers into his gloves, pulling them tight by the wrist leather, he told Sara, “When you come at noon, I have something unusual to show you.”
“Yes, Father,” she said.
It seemed odd that he would concern her with anything to do with business. He left her to the household. He had long tried to coerce Ed into the business, but Ed’s abilities trended more toward the physical. He was a skilled carpenter, though Father kept a close rein on where he took jobs and whom he worked for. All talk of renaming the business Moore & Son had been dropped when Father had recently promoted the young man who was his assistant, Chester O’Hanlin, to partner. Mr. O’Hanlin had droopy red muttonchops and a body so long and thin he looked a hand-span taller than he really was, which was actually a bit shorter than Sara. Mr. O’Hanlin didn’t talk much, either, and he seemed always to be listening. He held himself oddly, cocking his head to one side, first one way and then the other, his small dark eyes focusing off to the left or right of the speaker. His nose, long and wedge-shaped, seemed to take up half his face. “Chester, the Chinaman,” Maisie called him outside of his presence because of the way he stooped and bobbed whenever their father entered the room.
Sara Moore, who becomes Sara Youngblood
Sara is in her early 20s, a tall woman and a dutiful daughter in 1885 Iowa. Her father was a Colonel for the South in the Civil War. Here’s how the other protagonist James thinks of her when he first sees her:
At first, the woman loomed large, and James blinked to clear his vision, but then she shrank to human proportion. James’s heart gave a leap: it was his mother, there in the street! For that split second, a feeling welled up inside him and closed his throat. It was a conflicted feeling, one of love and relief and joy but also of constriction and gravity and panic. It was the feeling his mother invariably brought forth during their long association, moving about from place to place, just scraping by, never knowing if the next day brought light-headed soul-wrenching hunger or the sting of a step-father’s hand. But, no, this wasn’t his mother. That was not possible—his mother was two months’ dead, brought down by consumption. Physically, this woman was dissimilar. She was much taller, almost as tall at James. Her dress with its lush green skirts was richly laced and gusseted and tucked, and her heavily embroidered riding cape was of deep brown wool—more expensive than anything his mother had ever worn. This woman’s black hair was swept back in the more modern style, with the curls cascading from the back crown of the head instead of around the ears like his mother’s. She had a long nose with an ess curve in profile, well-proportioned gray eyes, a small mouth, and a narrow jaw that at present she had set in concentration. Instead of a large bonnet, this woman’s hat was small and perched somewhat to the side, and her stride was different than his mother’s. His mother’s walk had been both proud and sensual, and even as she aged men noticed her entering a room, for which James invariably felt apprehension for what that might bring. This woman, however, even in stride, seemed to be tucking in on herself, her head bobbing low, as if she wanted to make herself smaller. James understood that feeling.
These questions are answered by Sara at the beginning of Earth’s Imagined Corners.
Before we start, I must offer my sincerest gratitude to the proprietors of this lovely bibliographic establishment. Thank you, Miss … I apologize, as I did not get your family name? I would not presume familiarity and call you by your given name.
Describe yourself what is your worst and best quality?
Me? There’s nothing very special about me. I do my best, and I hope I would have made my mother proud. My faults are many, too numerous to name here.
What is the one thing you wish other people knew about you?
I don’t wish to be known in the public sphere, though I hope the women who are dear to my heart know the heights to which I hold them in my esteem.
What is your biggest secret something no one knows about?
I have no secrets, and if I were to have secrets, it would be unseemly to divulge them in public, would it not?
What are you most afraid of?
That I will not fulfill my duties to the satisfaction of my father.
What do you want more than anything?
What do I want? I want for nothing. I am well kept by the generosity of my father.
What is your relationship status?
I am single, though some might call me a spinster at my age. I have been busy caring for the needs of my family. Is that not honorable?
How would you describe your sense of fashion?
Modest, as it should be. But with taste.
How much of a rebel are you?
I can’t imagine. Women who rebel come to bad ends. Why would any woman in her right mind rebel?
What do you considered to be your greatest achievement?
Keeping a well-run household.
What is your idea of happiness?
Looking back on the day with the satisfaction of a job well done.
What is your current state of mind?
What is your most treasured possession?
A pocket watch bestowed upon me by my dear departed mother.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I would like to say it’s my unrelenting efforts on behalf of my family, but it would be wrong of me to say. I think my father would say it was a shortcoming of mine.
What is it that you, most dislike?
Dislike? I bend my will to that of my father.
Which living person do you, most despise?
I do not dispise anyone.
What is your greatest regret?
The death of my dear departed mother.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
I believe I value kindness and solicitude and hard work.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
I would have to say the qualities most desireable in a woman is bending her head to her task, as that is her place in the world.
Who is your favorite hero in fiction?
Are you speaking of a heroine? I must say, many of the novels that are read by women are romantic and silly and wrong-headed. The Brontes, for example, are often about women who shirk their duties, though Jane Eyre is a steadfast and level-headed one. I have to say, though, that I have always admired the lovely Jane in Pride and Prejudice.
Which living person do you most admire?
My father. He is a successful and contributing member of the community.
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
Oh, this is a subject on which I have pondered long and hard. There is so much to change, so many faults, but I blush to name them.
What is your motto?
Filial piety and obedience.
I’m afraid this interview gives a rather narrow view of poor Sara. She is caught in a circumscribed world. If you asked these questions at the end of the book, she would have altogether different answers. Filial piety would be low on her list of reverances. She would also value action and obeying one’s conscience much more highly. Circumstances beyond her control thoroughly test her mettle, and she no longer blindly trusts the men in her life. Just wait for the next book when James chases her with an ax!
Tamara Linse jokes that she was raised in the 1880s, and so it was natural for her to set a book there. She is the author of the short story collection How to Be a Man and the novel Deep Down Things and earned her master’s in English from the University of Wyoming, where she taught writing. Her work appears in the Georgetown Review, South Dakota Review, and Talking River, among others, and she was a finalist for an Arts & Letters and Glimmer Train contests, as well as the Black Lawrence Press Hudson Prize for a book of short stories. She works as an editor for a foundation and a freelancer.