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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Lone Women by Victor LaValle

LaValle mixes a Western setting with strong feminist messages, magical realism, haunting elements, and the terrifying, freeing truth in facing one's darker side.


There are two kinds of people in this world: those who live with shame, and those who die from it.

Victor LaValle's Lone Women begins in 1915 with a determined young woman, Adelaide Henry, covering her tracks by burning down her home--with her deceased parents inside. She's packed an incredibly heavy trunk and is setting out from California on a journey to try and leave her past behind.

She's set on becoming a homesteader in Montana, one of the "lone women" taking the government up on its offer of free land.

In LaValle's magical, dark Western, people tend to disappear whenever Adelaide's mysterious trunk opens. But the nature of the danger only becomes clear to the reader in fits and starts.

History is simple, but the past is complicated.

I love a Western, and Lone Women is largely set in rural Montana and involves the hardships of getting by in an unforgiving climate and sparsely populated area. But the story's conflict centers around the magical and horrifying danger Adelaide has never acknowledged outside the family yet has carried with her; the reasoning for maintaining her secrecy; her desperate fear of facing the truth; and the devastating idea that a greater understanding and different decisions might have dramatically changed the course of each of her family members' lives.

There's a ton to unpack here, including the exploration of the good and evil warring within each of us; what we do when faced with our own monsters; the terrifying power of perception and manipulated presentation; the potential destruction of lies and glossed-over realities; instances of well-deserved, sometimes brutal justice and the grace of redemption; and the depth of love in a chosen family.

I've seen Lone Women listed as a horror book, and there are horrifying elements, but the novel is far more than that; the story is complex and strange and interesting, with a pace that keeps moving and a satisfying ending.

I listened to the fascinating Lone Women as an audiobook.


Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

If you like Westerns, you might want to check out the books on the Greedy Reading Lists Six Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West and  Six More Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West.

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