AINSWORTH is a gem of a story. Carson writes with emotional honesty and such a fine sense of detail that one wonders why she is not a better known author. Janey-Lou, eight years old and the scapegoat of older siblings, tells the story of family secrets that are unearthed during a summer her family spends at the farmhouse of her aunt, uncle, and cousins in the prairie of Nebraska.
The story begins: “The same wind that blew dirt in my eyes blew over Claude’s gave, over all their graves, over the plains of Nebraska, over that flat bed hay hauler where I sat now sweltering in the afternoon. The hot wind moaned and howled. The corn fields bent. The giant elms bowed in its path. Everyone in my family agreed that wind was the worst kind of weather. I might pick wind as my favorite, just to be different.”
Janey-Lou’s voice drew me right in from this beginning and kept me engaged during the whole book. The characters are intensely real: the brainy and dominant brother Daniel, cousin “Scram,” the only other girl who mentors Janey-Lou in how to control both wayward horses and brothers, though she ultimately sides with the boys, and Aunt Pearl who scolds and fusses, impatient with the children, but who seems to be more wind than fury.
The children explore the abandoned house of their great-grandparents, defying their parents warnings to never set foot in the place because of the dangers inherent in its dilapidated state. But it beckons the children nonetheless. Objects are unearthed that tie their family to the mystery surrounding the death of a great uncle, his fascination and connection to the Sioux culture, and a direct link to the massacre at Wounded Knee. Janey-Lou is forced to undergo a trial by terror by the other children which finally uncovers the ghost the family has lived with for a hundred years.
I wondered about the feat the children accomplished in the final pages. Would it be possible? But what they find is harrowing, especially in the light of Janey-Lou’s innocence.
Carson, the author of the OSHKOSH TRILOGY and the intense psychological thriller The DARK LAKE, writes with aching beauty in this book. This is a novel with such a strong sense of character and place that it will stay with you for some time.