“An ingenious feat of fictional biography... a new American fable.”
–Theodore Rosengarten, National Book Award All God’s Children: The Life of Nate Shaw and MacArthur Fellow
Born at the turn of the twentieth century in Glen Arbor on the shore of Lake Michigan in the lee of Sleeping Bear Dunes, young Belle is the first child of a gruff stove works boss and a crippled Mama who weaned her on the verse of Emily Dickinson. When a natural disaster results in her mother drowning and Belle saving her younger brother Pip, she creates a fierce farewell song. Thus begins Belle’s long journey to compose a perfect Goodbye to Mama.
At age 21, she ventures south for university in Ann Arbor, with teenaged Pip in tow. There, she befriends Robert Frost, Ted Roethke and Wystan Auden and finds that her poetry stands alongside theirs, and even with that of her hero Dickinson. Belle’s lyrics capture the sounds, sights, and rhythms of the changing seasons in the northern forests, on the rolling dunes, by the shore of the Great Lake.
Despite the peace she seeks, Belle struggles in both her homes. Up north, she battles her father who thinks a woman can’t run the family business; and clashes with developers who would scar the recovering landscape and latecomers bent on keeping her first partner and his Ojibwe band down. In Ann Arbor, she challenges the status quo of academic pedants and chauvinists who try to put down creative artists, dreamers and inventors, women and other minorities.
Belle’s narrative brings these two places to life in their historic context: a growing Midwestern town driven by a public university striving for greatness; and a rural peninsula seeking prosperity while preserving its natural heritage. Through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Post-War Boom, Belle’s story once begun is hard to put down. Once read, her voice will be even harder to forget.