by Nancy Pickard; New York, Ballantine Books, 2006, 288 pages, $23.95
Dr. Nina Staples is assistant chief officer at Arlington Developmental Center, Arlington, Tennessee.
This work should categorize Nancy Pinkard as a master storyteller. The Virgin of Small Plains is the intriguing story of how the lives of many people are changed because of the lies and secrets of one family from a small community in Kansas. It is also the story of how faith and trust are based on things not known or seen. The mystery of this novel is not in the circumstances that result in the death of a young woman, but in the fact that several prominent members of the community—such as, the chief of police and the physician—participate in the cover-up. The mystery is also in strangers who place their hopes and beliefs in miracles on the premise that the grave of an unidentified person can cure their diseases, in a mother and father who sacrifice the lives of their sons by alienation and neglect, and in the love of youth that survives time and estrangement.
Ms. Pinkard exposes the character of Judge Newquist as a sexual predator. This man destroys the dreams of young woman from a dysfunctional family who had plans of having a different life than those of her family members. Judge Newquist uses his position and power to maintain a stronghold on his family and the community. In contrast, the judge's exiled son, Mitch, is exalted and united with his first love and a brother he never knew.
My favorite character in this story is Sarah, the virgin. Sarah helps a young cancer sufferer, Catie, see that in some way we have storms in our lives but that we are also blessed. Catie is able to pass this lesson on to many other hopeful people. The miracle that is being sought at the grave of the unidentified person is the miracle of life, a gift that we have already been blessed with.
The Virgin of Small Plains is a great read for family therapists, sex abuse counselors, and individuals from dysfunctional families who are working through the secrets and lies of their own families.