At first, I had no idea why I was asked to review Whiter Than Snow by Sandra Dallas. But then I read this lovely article, and then the book. First the article:
Sandra Dallas, Whiter Than Snow
Nothing defines my characters more than their sewing.
In my first novels, my female characters smoked. My books are set in earlier times, long before we knew about the evils of tobacco, when a woman who smoked was independent, a little daring, sophisticated. As a writer, I could do so much with smoking: A character could watch the smoke curl up or blow smoke into someone’s face. She could pick a speck of tobacco off her lip or snuff out a cigarette in anger. And there was all that wonderful smoking paraphernalia, such as Bakelite cigarette holders, monogrammed cigarette boxes, and remember those huge standing ashtrays with sand in them? But today, smoking says something negative about a character, no matter what the time period. So my characters have quit smoking. Instead, they quilt.
The way a woman stitches says something about her. A woman who takes small, even stitches is different from one who sews with big, sloppy stitches. A quilter who selects black and white fabrics for her quilt is more somber than one who picks primary colors. And the patterns the women choose, whether an intricate design with thousands of pieces or a big, bold pattern of large blocks, say something about them.
The titles of the quilts, too, affect the stitchers. Log cabin quilts were a favorite of women who helped escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. More than onepioneer woman pieced a Road to California before setting out for the West. And it’s hard to imagine that a woman who likes her toddies would make a Drunkard’s Path.
My characters don’t just sew. They are part of a community of stitchers—the quilting circle. I first wrote about a quilting circle in The Persian Pickle Club, thinking there were a few quilters out there who might relate to the subject. What I didn’t know was there are 27 million of them and that they understand the significance of the quilting circle far better than I. So I’ve included sewing in virtually all of my books, to a greater (Prayers for Sale) or lesser (Whiter Than Snow) degree.
What these readers know is that quilting isn’t just about making bed covers. In a quilting circle, women support each other. They share each other’s joys and sorrows, help in times of need, pull together when a member is threatened or in trouble. Quilting is a way of sharing, and the work of the women’s hands represents warmth and comfort not only because they are making a quilt but because that quilt is made with love.
I’ve often been asked if I’m a quilter. Some years ago, I wrote The Quilt That Walked to Golden, a history of quilting in the Rocky Mountain States, for the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden, Colo. In the book, I write that quilting all but died out during World War II, and the women who picked up their needles a generation later were often self-taught. They did things no self-respecting quilter would do today, such as use polyester fabric or quilt in the ditch (on the seam line.) I tell of one woman who made a quilt for her sister as a wedding present, a stuffed quilt made of huge puffs filled with cotton. She didn’t know when to stop stuffing, and as a result, the quilt weighed 25 pounds. Their brother had to take it to the wedding in the back of his pickup.
But my sister cherished the quilt anyway.
© Copyright 2010 by Sandra Dallas. Reprinted with permission from the author.
And now we get to the book:
While references to quilting and stitching are woven throughout the book, this is not a quilting story. Nor is it about the women of a guild. Instead, the book starts with a bang in the form of an avalanche. It courses it way down onto the town of Swandyke, Colorado and catches nine school children walking home after the last bell. The majority of the book focuses on the lives of these children's parents; their lives before the avalanche. They are all extremely likeable characters. Or, at the very least, understandable. I sat down the other night and read this book from cover to cover. It is amazing! And, while it did make me tear up a bit, it was incredibly uplifting. I don't know how I have missed reading Sandra Dallas' other books. Now I am off to Amazon to purchase the rest!