In this disquieting story, a woman fleeing past sins attempts to forge a new life homesteading Montana’s harsh plains.
Good to know
Adelaide Henry carries an enormous steamer trunk with her wherever she goes. It’s locked at all times. Because when the trunk is opened, people around her start to disappear . . .
The year is 1914, and Adelaide is in trouble. Her secret sin killed her parents, and forced her to flee her hometown of Redondo, California, in a hellfire rush, ready to make her way to Montana as a homesteader. Dragging the trunk with her at every stop, she will be one of the “lone women” taking advantage of the government’s offer of free land for those who can cultivate it—except that Adelaide isn’t alone. And the secret she’s tried so desperately to lock away might be the only thing keeping her alive.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who live with shame, and those who die from it. On Tuesday, Adelaide Henry would’ve called herself the former, but by Wednesday she wasn’t as sure. If she was trying to live, then why would she be walking through her family’s farmhouse carrying an Atlas jar of gasoline, pouring that gasoline on the kitchen floor, the dining table, dousing the settee in the den? And after she emptied the first Atlas jar, why go back to the kitchen for the other jar, then climb the stairs to the second floor, listening to the splash of gasoline on every step? Was she planning to live, or trying to die?
There were twenty-seven Black farming families in California’s Lucerne Valley in 1915. Adelaide and her parents had been one of them. After today there would only be twenty-six.
Adelaide reached the second-floor landing. She hardly smelled the gasoline anymore. Her hands were covered in fresh wounds, but she felt no pain. There were two bedrooms on the second floor: her bedroom and her parents’.
Adelaide’s parents were lured west by the promise of land in this valley. The federal government encouraged Americans to homestead California. The native population had been decimated, cleared off the property. Now it was time to give it all away. This invitation was one of the few that the United States extended to even its Negro citizens, and after 1866, the African Society put out a call to “colonize” Southern California. The Henrys were among the hundreds who came. They weren’t going to get a fair shot in Arkansas, that was for damn sure. The federal government called this homesteading.
Glenville and Eleanor Henry fled to California and grew alfalfa and wild grass, sold it to cattle owners for feed. Glenville studied the work of Luther Burbank and in 1908 they began growing the botanist’s Santa Rosa plums. To Adelaide the fruit tasted of sugar and self-determination. Adelaide had worked the orchards and fields alongside her daddy since she was twelve. Labored in the kitchen and the barn with her mother for even longer. Thirty-one years of life on this farm. Thirty-one.
And now she would burn it all down.
Why I love it
Author, The Hacienda
When we first meet Adelaide Henry, she’s setting fire to the California farmhouse she grew up in and making tracks for Montana with a strangely heavy steamer trunk in tow. There, she plans to lay claim to land and start afresh, unfettered by her family and her past.
I was utterly hooked from the opening pages of Lone Women, which breathes fresh air into a time period and setting that has long been painted with a monochromatic brush. Adelaide is unlike any historical fiction heroine I have ever encountered—flinty, canny, and honest—and on her journey she makes alliances with Black, Chinese-American, Métis, Mexican, and queer characters, highlighting the diversity of the frontier. But as the mysteries of Victor LaValle’s masterfully spun tale unfolded, I was pinioned to the spot by writing that was at once crisply lyrical and so chilling it had me gasping aloud.
For me, the best horror reads are those that do more than creep you out. They also strike an immensely satisfying note that—while not strictly a happily ever after—leave your heart aching in the best way. Lone Women is such a book. It is a horror story, yes, but also a story about survival, about how we navigate the difficult waters of family history and self-reinvention. The bite of Montana’s freezing winds will stay with you long after you close the pages of Lone Women, but so too will Adelaide, her resilience, and her heart.
Member ratings (8,017)
This is my kind of horror! This was wonderfully written & eerily unsettling. I loved Adelaide & the idea that family secrets & the familial curses we carry can truly be our biggest horror. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Wow for being a horror, this had some heavy lessons. All of the women faced a lot of horrors of being women on their own. Beautifully written and truly spooky. This was a fantastic piece of work! ❤️❤️
West Hollywood, CA
I loved every page of this book! A monster story that embraces & defies the genre of horror! The characters & landscapes are so rich. Literary & poetic & a page of history that doesn’t get taught! ❤️
Lithia Springs, GA
I loved the strong female characters, the commentary on race, gender, class. The book was appropriately horrifying, graphic, and immersive. I do wish there would’ve been more POVs from all the women.
New York, NY
I almost skipped this month - so glad I went with this book. Because the characters are so complex and strong, it wld have been great even w/o the fantasy element I’d love to know these Lone Women.