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Willa’s Grove, by Laura Munson.

October 30, 2019

Frederick Douglass
Willa’s Grove by Laura Munson. Blackstone Publishing, 2020.

Forthcoming: March 3, 2020.

3 stars  

A novel set in a small Montana town where four women come together for a week to figure out what is next for themselves.

Laura Munson defines herself primarily as a writer, seeking to help other writers through difficult times. Her memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is:  A Season of Unlikely Happiness has been widely read.   It traces her own response to her husband’s statement that he wanted a divorce. She has also published essays and stories in leading magazines and appeared in a variety of media.  Her basic message is that of much recent advice literature which focuses on women finding empowerment and  voice.  In addition, she offers Haven Writing Retreats on a ranch in Montana where she lives with her family.  Other than her own website, there is little about her on the web.

In Munson’s new book, Willa and her husband have lived for many years on land they own in a remote section of Montana.  They also own the small village that has grown up on their property.  When her husband suddenly dies, Willa in overwhelmed by the work of running their ranch alone and by the enormous debt that her husband left behind.  As she contemplates selling the town, she invites a friend and two friends of friends to join her for a week of intense conversation and activity. Each of the middle-aged women is at decision point in her life.  They help each other and are helped by the spacious Montana land.

Munson obviously draws on the women who have come to the retreats that she holds for those seeking space and fellowship for making decisions.  I deeply admire her for reaching out to others with her retreats. I would love to attend one.  But a wonderful process does not always translate into good book.  Munson could have been helped by better editing and polishing of her prose.  The characters are often flat representatives of types of women.  The plot line of ownership of the land and activities of the women are improbable.  The women’s conversations are repetitive and focused on them telling each to love themselves.  Despite all that is said about women empowering themselves, most of their solutions hinge on the decisions of others. But the women are all good people in a beautiful place. That will be enough for some readers.

Some readers will enjoy this rather light read.

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