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On Shifting Sand by Allison Pittman | Book Review

Remember last week when I reviewed the best book I've read in a long time?  Hold on to that thought as I dive into On Shifting Sand by Allison Pittman.

Taking place in the dust bowl in the 1930s, Nola Merrill has been married to Russ for approximately 12 years.  They got married after Nola found out she was pregnant with their oldest child.  She thought Russ, getting ready to go to college, was her way out of a crappy home life with her semi-abusive father.  However, Russ only moved her into the town proper (Featherling, Oklahoma), which is not the big switch that Nola had been wanting.

Russ's long lost friend, Jim, from before (I assume, because it's never mentioned by name) World War I, comes blowing into town with a  dust storm.  There is an immediate attraction between the two, and Nola feels as if she has sinned against her husband.  Eventually, Nola gives in to this attraction, having an affair with Jim.  Then, all hell breaks loose.  She tells her father to help send him away, she battles continuously with her conscience on whether she should tell her husband or not, and she battles the Oklahoma dust storms.  Which, she thinks is God's way of making her pay for her wrongdoing.

Eventually, Nola's father dies, and the family moves east where her brother is currently living.  It takes a dust storm in Washington, DC for her to decide that God has not fully forgiven her, and that she needs to tell Russ what happened.  Things are touchy between them for a while, but they work through it and grow in their relationship.

OKAY.  Now my thoughts.  Which are kind of all over the place.  So I'm going to do this a little differently than in the past reviews!

What I liked:
Learning about the dust bowl and the perils that face that particular part of the country leading up to and during the Great Depression.  I remember hearing the term in school, but I don't think we learn about it in any great detail.

It's an easy read- pages go by quickly, but at almost 400 pages, it's a little bit longer book.

The storyline and the outcome of the book is pretty on target for the time period, I feel.  I mean it was taboo at that time to have a child out of wedlock, thus the shotgun wedding to a soon-to-be-Preacher.  Nola technically owns a little hardware store with her brother- it's their names on the papers-  but with him being on the other side of the country, Russ is in charge.  Early on, the Nola remarks about her lipstick- the only bit of makeup Russ will allow here to wear.  No feminist rants here- I think this is all fairly accurate of the '30s.

What I didn't like:
I mentioned above.  This is nearly a 400 page book.  It could be purged down to 300 pages or less in no time but cutting out all of Nola's "woe is me" nonsense.  It's there off and on for the entire book, but gets especially lengthy in the middle after she cheats on her husband.  Which is her own fault to begin with, and even more so since Jim didn't actively peruse her- more often than not she sought him out.  He actually told her that she needed to stay away from him, and he was planning on leaving town.

Nola never seems to be satisfied with her life.  She wants out of the dust bowl altogether, has/had dreams of going to college, and even states that it takes all her energy to not push her daughter away when she tries to hug her.  To me, she needs to suck it up and talk to her husband- who seems to only want to make her happy- about them moving away (which they eventually do.)  I feel like the whole affair aspect could have been avoided had she talked openly with him.

The book focuses hard on the sanctity of marriage, forgiveness, and working through your [marital] problems.  I agree with all of that.  However, it paints the main character as an evil, sinful woman, and it kind of came across to me as that's just how women are.  It takes a strong, faith-driven man to point her in the right direction.  It could be another way to paint the picture of life in the '30s, but that idea felt separate to me than just the time period.  If that makes sense.

Overall, On Shifting Sand  was a mediocre book.  After the first 20 pages or so of Nola going back and forth on if (and how) she should tell her husband she cheated on him [with his friend], I took to skimming the text until it picked back up with relevant information.  For me, the lifestyle of the time and area was more interesting than the main plot line.

This book was provided to me by the publisher, Tyndale Books, free of charge.  In exchange, I gave my open, honest opinion of the book in this review.


  1. It sounded like an interesting book until the whole woe is me and the part where you said she cheated on her husband with his friend. Sounds like some people I unfollowed on Facebook haha! It does make me want to look for a historical fiction book though. I might enjoy it.

  2. Yeah it definitely turned me off to it. I'm sure all of those things that were written were what the author portrays Nola as thinking. Which, I believe is legitimate thought for someone who feels badly for their actions. However, had this been a real life person saying all these things to me, I probably would have throat chopped them; I did not have to read every single guilty thought she had in her head, though.

    If you're looking for historical fiction to get into, I vote Anne of Green Gables :)


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