Lone Women by Victor LaValle blends the best of several genres, giving us western, historical fiction, horror, thriller, and plenty of social commentary to boot. The year is 1914 and our heroine, Adelaide Henry, is fleeing California – her parents are dead and all she has with her is a suspiciously heavy locked steamer trunk. She makes her way to Montana where, thanks to the Homestead Act, single women were able to claim plots of land, work it for three years, and then “prove up” to owning the land. The harsh Montana environment is difficult enough for anyone to survive, let alone a young Black woman who is clearly harboring some dark secrets.
The best parts of Lone Women come further in the story, when LaValle twists expectations and turns what would have been a predictable plot on its head. In lieu of spoiling that, I will just recommend that you allow this story time to unfold. In the meantime, Lone Women has an excellent cast of characters – Adelaide is strong but scared, naïve but tenacious. She grows close to a wonderfully diverse supporting cast of mostly women who are all braving their own demons out in the Montana wilderness. They face racism, sexism, homophobia, and more, but they face it head on with vigor. And the ending of this book is so satisfying!
There are horror elements to Lone Women, mostly with regards to what is in Adelaide’s heavy trunk. There are plenty of spooky moments, partially due to the supernatural and partially due to the harsh reality of Montana in 1915. The pace is leisurely, as is often the case in historical fiction, but I was compelled forward by first finding out what was in the trunk and then figuring out how it would all play out. This book created an excellent atmosphere that kept me thinking about it long after I had finished reading.