Oklahoma is a forgotten territory of "Indians, outlaws, and immigrants" when its first Jewish settler, Boggy Haurowitz, arrives in 1859. Full of expectations, he finds the untamed region a formidable foe, its landscape rugged, its resources strained. In Stations West, four generations of Haurowitzes, intertwined with a family of Swedish immigrants, struggle against the Territory's "insatiable appetite." The challenges of creating a home amid betrayals, nature's vagaries, and burgeoning statehood prove too great. Each generation in turn succumbs to the overwhelming lure of the transcontinental railroad, and each returns home to find the landscape of their youth, like themselves, changed beyond recognition, their family utterly transformed. Dramatic and lyrical, Allison Amend's first novel, steeped in the history and lore of the Oklahoma Territory, tells an unforgettable multigenerational -- and very American -- story of Jewish pioneers, their adopted family, and the challenges they face. Amid the founding of the West, Stations West's generations struggle to forge and maintain their identities as Jews, as immigrants, and as Americans.
Boggy’s grandson Garfield’s bitter, alienated narrative takes up a lion’s share of this story, but his stubbornness and irascibility and loneliness don’t seem completely grounded in his childhood experience. The women’s stories are of course more difficult, more subject to caprice, and more unjust. The stigma of having a child out of wedlock dooms one to a lifetime of servitude and yearning. Another’s deafness makes her somehow a match only for a simpleton. Garfield’s mother spends her entire life a whore, and dies alone in a Sierra Nevada winter.
The other chief “character” is the Oklahoma landscape, by turns dusty, barren, and dusty, filled with men with dust in the creases of their careworn faces. This narrative lays out the modest successes and grand tribulations of three generations of Oklahoma settlers, but delves deeply into the internal dialog none. Conflict tests and batters and alienates and sometimes kills the principals, but resolution to these conflicts is too often hopeless. A particular example: the disgraced and disfigured Dora, secretly the mother of an illegitimate child, who has pined after Garfield all her life, so thoroughly takes charge over his funeral arrangements that only then is she believed to be his wife.
Hardship, doggedness, and luck of all kinds will ever determine the path of people’s lives, and, in settling the American West in particular, these character traits and fortunes become displayed in high relief. This seems to me ground Willa Cather covered far more deeply and effectively.