In 1929, Ruth Farley, a fiercely independent woman, homesteads a tract of land in a beautiful canyon in the Southern California desert. Determined to live on her own terms and to be free of troubling human attachments, Ruth initially rejects the help of the miners and cowboys who are her neighbors and struggles to develop the homestead on her own. Gradually, however, Ruth learns that survival is a far more complicated and dangerous business, and the entrapments of love sweeter, and more binding, than she had ever imagined. Determined to take possession of her land, Ruth must first face the consequences of her own stubbornness and sensuality, and of mindless and terrible violence, as well as a bitter fight to stay alive through a harrowing and isolated winter. Only then, her hard-won wisdom forged in unbearable grief and wrenching physical trials, can she truly become part of the land she loves so intensely. Ruth Farley is a character of exceptional complexity—a liberated woman in a time when most women were tied to the home; a joyously sexual woman in a culture where most women merely “did their duty” for the men in their lives; a contradictory, self-centered, alienated woman who ultimately learns the true nature of love and community. Glory Springs, the site of Ruth’s homestead, is a place of wondrous natural beauty; it is also, as we follow Ruth’s tenuous search for peace and wisdom, a place that we recognize, that we, too, seek within our hearts. Small Rocks Rising is a novel of stunning richness and beauty, of memorable characters and unforgettable insight into a woman’s secret and passionate soul.
“Small Rocks Rising is a rare and needed treasure—a book about a woman in the midst of the male myth of the American West.” —Kate Horsley
“With an unconventional pioneer woman as its heroine, Lang’s earnest, nostalgic debut novel explores the satisfactions of learning how to tame the wilderness. A homesteader in the 1920s, independent-minded Ruth Farley stakes her claim to a Southern California canyon, optimistically renaming her parcel of land Glory Springs. As she struggles to clear the land for building, a hard-to-move boulder becomes a metaphor for the struggles she faces in coping with querulous fellow homesteaders, dangerously aggressive men and her dawning romantic feelings for a local Indian. The desire for freedom pervades this tale of woman against environment freedom from oppressive social conventions and particularly from other people’s ideas of femininity. Lang’s writing can be fluid and evocative, especially when she’s describing the landscape and the practical challenges of living in the wilderness. . . . Readers who enjoy frontier history or rebellious heroines will find satisfaction in Ruth’s determination ‘to make her way like a man was allowed to do’ and in Lang’s knowledgeable depiction of homesteading life.” —Publisher’s Weekly, April 2002
“The rocks, the spring, the deer and other inhabitants of the mountain, the weather itself are characters in this unusual and compelling narrative of a young woman’s struggle to survive and flourish in the wilderness that others want to deny her.” — Marge Piercy
“Susan Lang’s Small Rocks Rising should take its rightful place alongside masterpieces like Mari Sandoz’s Old Jules and Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, moving tales of those stubborn pioneers who were nearly beaten down by the harsh and arid plains of the West.” —John Shannon