Eighty-six-year-old Hennie Comfort is starting to feel old. She knows it is time to start spending at least the winter months at her daughter’s home in the milder climate of Fort Madison, Iowa, rather than in her own home high in the Rockies where she has spent most of the last seventy winters. Middle Swan, Colorado, is a gold mining town and, considering the depth of the Depression, its residents are happy to have the steady work, dangerous though that work might be.
Hennie is wise enough to know that once she settles in Iowa she might have neither the health nor the energy needed to return to the Colorado high country. She finds the possibility that her new, more static, lifestyle might speed her aging process, or stifle her will to remain active, to be a depressing one because she is not ready to say “deep enough” to Middle Swan. It is the unexpected appearance of seventeen-year-old Nit Spindle, who hopes to start a new life with her young husband in Middle Swan, that gives Hennie a new sense of purpose as she prepares herself to leave the mining town.
The two first meet when Nit stops to ponder the “Prayers for Sale” signed attached to the fence in front of Hennie’s house. Not realizing that the sign is a sentimental joke, the young woman offers Hennie her last nickel for a prayer. Hennie refuses the money, offers to say the prayer for nothing, and invites Nit inside where the two women begin to forge the remarkable bond both will come to cherish. On the one hand, Hennie, who arrived in Middle Swan at about the same age as Nit, sees much of herself in Nit Spindle and she remembers full well how difficult it was for her to fit into such a strange new place. On the other, Nit, desperately lonely and far from her Kentucky home for the first time in her life, senses in Hennie the kindness of someone willing to help ease her into her new life.
Prayers for Sale is the story of a deep friendship between two very different women. One of them is old enough to have lost family during the Civil War, and the other has come of age more than sixty years later during America’s Great Depression. Hennie Comfort is a born storyteller and, to Nit, it seems that she has accumulated a never ending supply of fascinating stories during her long life. It is through Hennie’s stories and advice that Nit learns the skills needed to thrive in her new environment, and telling those stories gives Hennie a sense that she is completing the circle she began some seventy years earlier when she climbed out of the wagon that brought her to Middle Swan.
Sandra Dallas has created two memorable characters in Hennie Comfort and Nit Spindle – she even manages to surround them with a circle of women the reader will remember for a long time. But what make Prayers for Sale special are the stories through which Hennie Comfort reveals her life story a little at a time, right up to the present day when she is finally ready to say “deep enough” to her old life. I will not soon forget Hennie Comfort, her mountain lore, or her stories, and I suspect that Nit Spindle and her husband held Hennie’s memory close for the rest of their lives. Prayers for Sale is a very fine character-driven novel.
Rated at: 4.0