The Shinnery: A Novel

The Shinnery: A Novel

by Kate Anger
The Shinnery: A Novel

The Shinnery: A Novel

by Kate Anger


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Reading the West Longlist for Debut Fiction

Seventeen-year-old Jessa Campbell thrives on the Shinnery, her family’s homestead in 1890s Texas, bordered by acres of shin oaks on the rolling plains. Without explanation her father sends her away to settle a family debt. A better judge of cattle than of men, Jessa becomes entangled with a bad one. Everything unravels after she puts her trust in Will Keyes. When Jessa returns home to the Shinnery, pregnant and alone, her father goes on a mission of frontier justice, with devastating consequences. In the aftermath Jessa fights for her claim to the family farm and for a life of independence for herself and her sisters. A story of coming-of-age, betrayal, and revenge, The Shinnery is inspired by the author’s family history and a trial that shook the region.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496231383
Publisher: UNP - Bison Books
Publication date: 09/01/2022
Pages: 268
Sales rank: 1,099,031
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Kate Anger is a playwright and a lecturer at the University of California–Riverside.

Read an Excerpt

May 1894
Jessa sensed something was amiss as soon as her father pulled up in
the wagon. He’d gone to Rayner for supplies. They’d run out of sugar
and were low on coffee and cornmeal. Though he’d taken a batch of
their usual trade goods, butter and eggs, the wagon was empty. Especially
vexing to Jessa was the lack of melon seeds, the very thing he’d
gone after. They’d been planning on the melons for months, had dug a
channel off Sometimes Creek for water. They were already late, going
for an early fall harvest, but they’d heard about a fellow over in Haskell
who’d made a killing the year before. A proprietary seed and fertilizer.
Mama thought it a scheme.
“Where’s the seed?” Jessa asked.
Papa didn’t answer as he climbed down from the buckboard. His face
looked grim, and Jessa wondered if it was on account of pain. Everything
he did, he did stiffly.
“Bring this in to your mama,” he said, handing her a small sack of
“But where’s the rest?” It irked her that he wouldn’t explain. She
wasn’t a child, but a partner in this venture—or
this almost venture.
Just then Agnes, nine years younger than Jessa, came rushing up. “Did
you bring me anything?” From his pocket, Papa pulled three pieces of
orange candy. Agnes plopped them in her mouth all at once. To Jessa,
he handed a single butterscotch drop, for which she had no appetite.
“The melon seeds?”
“Take the coffee. I’ll be in in a minute with some news.”
“News, shoes, clues,” Agnes sing-songed
in a candy-garbled
Jessa didn’t want any news. Not the way he’d said it, head down,
talking to his shoes. Had he picked up a letter at the post? Was someone
worse? Considering the number of very bad things he could
be waiting to tell them, Jessa knew being upset over the seed was petty.
Still, she had the urge to kick something. They were a few years into
what the papers were saying was a nationwide drought. It’d wiped out
corn across much of the Great Plains, causing droves of homesteaders
to return east. Although Stonewall County had been spared the worst of
the drought, the Campbells were always worried about getting enough
rain for their cotton and sorghum crops. Money, and the family’s need
of it, was never openly discussed, but it was always there, staring back
at them in their half-empty
larder and worn-out
shoes. Jessa looked
out over the empty field they’d spent three days grooming. The Bradford
was said to have a rind so soft you could cut it with a butter knife.
For a second, she could taste one. What could be so important, or terrible,
that he’d come home without the seed?
With the family all gathered in their small kitchen, Papa delivered
his news. His hands were folded in front of him, resting on his belly, as
if he were making a speech in church. “You’ll be settled with the Martins,”
he said to Jessa. “The ones that got the mercantile.”
“Settled?” She didn’t understand.
“A mother’s helper.”
“What?” she said. No such thing had ever been discussed before. It
was as wild to her as if he’d come home saying, “I’ve added a wife,” or,
“We’re trading the horses for elephants.” Papa explained she’d board
with the Martins and come home to visit. Everything she knew about
the world seemed to flip. Visit home? Home was the place you left to
go visiting. What on earth had happened when Papa went to town?
She was Papa’s right-hand
man—he called her that, despite her sex—
and had been since she’d stopped schooling four years earlier, when
she’d turned thirteen. Her two younger sisters could not begin to take
her place. It made no sense for her to leave. She objected in the way
she could, in measured tones, as if panic weren’t overtaking her. She
wasn’t quick with words like her sisters. Feelings and ideas would get
stuck on the other side of her voice, no words to carry them across. Or
she’d start talking and her words would fail, trail off, evaporate, everyone
staring at her, waiting. Papa wasn’t in a waiting mood. He seemed
uncomfortable, brushing dust that wasn’t there from his britches.

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