Softly Falling wasn't an easy book to read. No, it wasn't Ms. Kelly's writing style but the story itself, which was quite grim and chilling.
Lily, a mulatto girl bread as an English lady, comes to Wyoming in search of her errant English father. She's exiled here by her own titled uncle largely due to the color of her skin, also because of her father's "shameful" past aka marrying a woman of color when he was in Barbados. Upon arriving in the USA, Lily is quite bombarded with several bad news. On the train station, she meets Jack, the foreman of the ranch where her father currently works and thus it begins. Yes, her father is here, and no, he doesn't own the ranch as he'd notified in his letters. Several vices, including drinking and gambling, have caught up with Clarence Carteret and he had lost the ranch to none other than Jack himself.
Jack has is a veteran of the Civil War. He was young (in his teens) at that time, poor and illiterate. As a soldier, he'd seen it all, done it all, the cut on his face a testament of that life. After the war, all he ever wanted was to make a life for himself, earn enough to have a ranch of his own and settle down. He has just started to build up that ranch of his dreams, even if it's quite small and made him the butt of cowboy jokes. Yet when Lily arrives, she changes his lonely, bleary world. Wyoming, back in those days, was as lonely as it can be with lands stretching bare miles on end, with nothing but cattle on sight. For a cowboy, there were too few people to talk to. Few or no entertainments to speak of. No respectable lady wanted that harsh life and settle down with a cowboy, especially not a pretty, educated one like Lily. Yet here she was, in Jack's life. I'd say Jack fell for her on spot (oh to read him blush every time Lily was near or he had to acknowledge his feelings even to himself :p).
Even with the string of bad news and disappointments, Lily doesn't give up hope, a big motivation would be Jack and his ever friendly ways. He was nothing like her father which attracts her to him too. At one point, Lily decides to earn a few bucks by teaching the very small community where she only had 4 students in all. She had planned to move away as soon as she'd earned enough money, right after the winter that was coming. What she didn't realize that the winter of 1886 would be the most vicious, most cruel winter of her life, or the lives of anyone who lived to tell the tale of those 5 months of deaths, misery and suffering of all kinds. The people of that ranch, the ones who didn't perish, had to come together to survive, not knowing if they'd ever make out of it. Jack had already warned them all as he'd recognized the signs early on. Their boss, a dumb guy, didn't heed Jack's premonitions. People and cattle, likewise, suffered for his idiocy.
The narratives of that winter send chills down my spine. Just how long and hard they had to fight just to get through with strictest rationing of food and wood was simply unimaginable. A grim shadow of death and depression was cast on everybody's mind, though Lily, her students, Jack and the few surviving members of the ranch did their best to not give into that. It was really difficult to get through. At times I felt quite miserable myself.That affection was palpable in every single person who fought to survive the harshest winter of their lives.
That winter brought them a lot of misery, but several good memories too. A iron-strong bond of friendship was built, without which none of them probably would've survived. Even in the midst of it all the children, and Jack, learned to read and write with Lily's help. Love blossomed between him and Lily and another couple. The affection between Lily and Jack was very palpable without any scenes of deep kissing or detailed sex scenes. That affection was palpable in every single person who fought to survive the harshest winter of their lives.
Softly Falling is not only about love and friendship, but also about hope and survival. When you think you can't go on, look closer and you'll see the light at the other end of the tunnel. Jack never took his foreman duties lightly. He was an overall gentleman, a man of his words who could shoulder any burden. Yet that winter almost brought a man like him down. When he thought he was failing his little bunch, Jack found his way out of those dark thoughts with Lily's help. Actually, each of them helped the other and with a hope for the coming spring, they held on. Every single man, woman and child of that ranch were a survivor.
But when the story ended, I wanted for it to go on. When the long awaited spring finally arrived, Lily and Jack found themselves on the cusp of a new life; a life full of potentials and expectations. I wanted to be a part of that too, as I have been for their struggle of survival.
It's not really possible for me to express what Ms. Kelly has through her storytelling so I'd ask you to read it and find out for yourself. 4 stars.