Excerpt from The High Divide by Lin Enger, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The High Divide

by Lin Enger

The High Divide by Lin Enger X
The High Divide by Lin Enger
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 352 pages

    May 2015, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Print Excerpt

The High Divide
By Lin Enger

In the kitchen Eli peeled and grated three large potatoes into a bowl, added a palmful of mustard seeds, a heavy pinch of dried dandelion, a tablespoon of ground pepper, and just enough water and flour to make a sticky ball. His hands worked on their own, his mind given over to the letter in his pocket, the sweet smell it carried, and the new fears he had now because of it. He was lucky it arrived today, though—he knew that. The regular postman, Smith, was down with a fever, and a man from Moorhead had come out to handle the mail. Smith, of course, would have noted the feminine hand on the envelope and made sure to deliver it in person to their house.

By the time Eli started back to the store, Danny had been tucked into bed, their mother's, and all the shades had been drawn. The poultice covered his forehead and eyes. Eli took the long way back, stopping to climb the half-dead cottonwood that leaned out over the river, its wide trunk offering a saddlelike seat that Eli leaned back against, trying to calm himself. His heart was beating inside his ears and pulsing in his neck. His hands were weak. He forced himself to take long breaths, and when his heart slowed, he took out his jackknife and sliced open the envelope, careful not to damage the letter inside, which was written in the same hand, though the ink was a different color, not black but a shade of purple that made Eli think of the veins on the tender side of a woman's wrist. In the upper left-hand-corner was the return address—1020 5th Avenue North, Bismarck, Dakota—and in the upper right, the date: September 10th, 1886.

Dear Ulysses,

I trust this letter finds you healthy and rested from what must have been a difficult journey. It would have meant so very much to Jim that you came, and for me your visit, I hope you know, was a burst of sun in a long gray season.

I've been fine and busy since you left . . .

Eli scanned down the page, registering her mention of a garden—ripening pumpkins and late tomatoes—house painters, a new pastor at church, pleasant weather. Then, toward the bottom of the page, her words caught him up again:

Although I wouldn't wish upon you or anyone else the loneliness I know, at least I can say now that my heart is capable of human feeling again. Thank you. And if future travels bring you this way, you would be more than welcome. But you know as much already.


Laura Powers

For half a minute the interior of Eli's skull was sparkly and white, like his mother's kitchen on baking days when the air was full of flour, the sun pouring in through the window. Then his head cleared. Above the river a mallard set its wings, tilted in a fast drop to the water, and skated into the calm pool inside the river's bend. Eli's stomach twisted inside him. His parents had always been happy together, hadn't they—except for that fight over the promissory note? Hadn't they made a habit of taking walks in the evening, holding hands? Hadn't he spied them kissing sometimes, early mornings down by the outhouse, or after dark beneath the drooping branches of the old birch? Or was that long ago now? He thought about last winter, not even a year past, when his father managed to offend the entire congregation of Our Savior's, and soon after, lose most of his carpentry jobs, notably the schoolhouse contract. He remembered, too, watching his father pummel a man at the train depot and lose that job also—justified though he had been. All of this leading to their money problems, and finally his leaving. Something had happened with his father, that was certain, something Eli didn't understand. Yet he was just as certain—or at least determined to be—that one day everything would be set straight.

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Excerpted from The High Divide by Lin Enger. Copyright © 2014 by Lin Enger. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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