While more known for her short stories, Paula Coomer takes the novel form to tell the story of Patricia Morrison, the daughter of Kentucky hill folk who leaves her hardscrabble life in Appalachia to discover a new existence in the West. After an unpleasant divorce, she lands on the Nez Perce Indian reservation to work as a nurse. The book, told in the main character’s voice, incorporates an exploration of the landscape and landmarks quite familiar to those of us who have spent time in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. The details are informed by Coomer’s own experiences as a daughter of Appalachia, rural nurse, wife of a police officer, and resident of the Palouse.
Bookended by a camping trip along the Lostine River, the narrator unfolds Patricia’s quest through both time and place, visiting the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene reservations and spots around Washington as she meets and cares for her Public Health Service clients and deals with her own personal life. The complex of characters and encounters over more than two decades culminate in an understanding of a multitude of things, including life on the reservation, her divorce, her relationship with her two sons, and her own heritage and identity.
Coomer teaches composition and technical and professional writing in the WSU English department.