In 1944, Loyal Blood abruptly leaves his family’s farm in Vermont, under circumstances that are only vaguely described. He heads west, working a variety of jobs: mining, archaeology, trapping, farming, and so on. His parents Mink and Jewell continue working the farm with help from Loyal’s brother, Dub. Life is grim. Dub’s employment options are limited since he lost his arm in an accident. Loyal and Dub’s teenage sister, Mernelle, longs for the day she can escape. And Loyal’s self-imposed exile is no better.
Postcards is a portrait of a family, of farming, and of the American west in the mid-twentieth century. Each of the Blood family members finds their path, but it’s not always a happy one. Some chapters were riveting, like when men became trapped in a mine, or when farmers banded together to fight a brush fire that threatened their livestock. Most chapters open with the image of a postcard: sometimes it’s a short note from Loyal to his family; at other times the correspondence is between unknown parties, but provides context or related plot details. It’s an interesting device.
But while this book started strong, my interest flagged in the last 100 pages or so. The events precipitating Loyal’s departure were never fully explained, making it difficult for me to understand why he refused to return home or even let his family know his current address. Loyal’s endless roaming across the country bored me after a while. Dub, Mernelle, and even Jewell had more interesting stories, which were not as fully developed.
Postcards was Annie Proulx’s debut novel; there are glimpses of the talent that later brought us The Shipping News, but a few flaws as well.