Title: Lone Women
Author: Victor Lavalle
Publisher: One World
Publication date: March 28, 2023
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/horror/fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Blue skies, empty land—and enough room to hide away a horrifying secret. Or is there? Discover a haunting new vision of the American West from the award-winning author of The Changeling.
Adelaide Henry carries an enormous steamer trunk with her wherever she goes. It’s locked at all times. Because when the trunk is opened, people around her start to disappear…
The year is 1914, and Adelaide is in trouble. Her secret sin killed her parents, and forced her to flee her hometown of Redondo, California, in a hellfire rush, ready to make her way to Montana as a homesteader. Dragging the trunk with her at every stop, she will be one of the “lone women” taking advantage of the government’s offer of free land for those who can cultivate it—except that Adelaide isn’t alone. And the secret she’s tried so desperately to lock away might be the only thing keeping her alive.
Told in Victor LaValle’s signature style, blending historical fiction, shimmering prose, and inventive horror, Lone Women is the gripping story of a woman desperate to bury her past—and a portrait of early twentieth-century America like you’ve never seen.
I’d never read anything by Victor LaValle until now, but how could I pass up a book that’s historical fiction, horror, and the story of a strong woman making her own way, all wrapped up into one story?
When we meet Adelaide, we know right away that something is very wrong… mainly because she’s in the process of burning down her house with her parents’ dead bodies inside. She leaves with a huge, heavy steamer trunk and sets off for a ship to Seattle, and from there, a train to Montana, where homesteader land is available to anyone who’s willing to live there.
Adelaide craves solitude, a fresh start, and freedom from the dire secret that’s haunted her family her entire life. Her old home in California was a farm close by other Black farming families, but even among people she felt a kinship with, there was a distance — rumors flew about her and her parents and the family’s strangeness.
Montana isn’t exactly the promised land, though. Adelaide’s homestead is barren earth with a primitive cabin, about 16 miles from the nearest town, the tiny Big Sandy. While she suffers through the shockingly cold and windy weather of her new home, where it’s not even winter yet, she also starts to meet some of the other “lone women” nearby, and forms tentative first connections.
But Adelaide’s secret — and her locked steamer trunk — are never far from her mind, and keep her prisoner to her obligation to hide what she sees as her family’s curse from everyone nearby — for their own safety as well as hers. Meanwhile, there are other dangers as well — bandits who prey upon lone women, racist townsfolk who view conformity as the only virtue, and powerful town leaders who are intent on pushing out those who don’t abide by their rules and inflicting their own form of frontier justice whenever they deem it necessary.
Lone Women has violence and terror, but it also has remarkably strong women at its heart. Adelaide herself is wonderful, as are the other women she bonds with. It’s astonishing and admirable seeing her determination to survive, make her own way, and not give in.
The mystery of the trunk is unfolded slowly — and I won’t give anything away, but at a certain point in the story, I let out a very loud “OH!!!” when things finally became clear. Such an amazing reveal!
The actions of some of the townspeople represent the true horror of this story, and I loved how the frightening elements combine so well with the historical depiction, the character studies, and the fantastical elements too.
Overall, I loved Lone Women. The mood builds dramatically, the characters are distinct and memorable, and the resolution… well, again, I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s got a great ending!