The first quarter of the novel employs five alternating points of view: Carter, Ozzie, a newspaper reporter, the owner of the construction company, and a widow whose business is not affected by the dam. This provides a rich canvas for exploring the dam’s history and impact. After Carter leaves town, however, the narrative follows him, resulting in a focus on life in the construction camp and less conflict and character development. When Carter ventures home for a dedication ceremony with President Roosevelt, the other perspectives return, and the pacing picks up, building to a surprise revelation of who sabotaged Ozzie’s ferry.
Anderson deftly brings to life the texture and drift of days and minds in the era, as well as the challenges such an ambitious project entails, how it shaped and upended lives, and the drama not just of the dam and displacement but of survival in the Great Depression. Though the conflicts experienced by Carter resolve in ways that may strike some readers as convenient, the storytelling has grit under its fingernails, a sense of life as it was lived, and also a compelling sense of history’s sweep.
Takeaway: A sweeping historical novel of the building and impact of the Grand Coulee Dam.
Great for fans of: Peter Donahue, Timothy Egan’s The Winemaker’s Daughter.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A