The "corrugated castle" of the title refers to a prefabricated metal house apparently a fairly common construction during the first rapid development of San Francisco where Eldora finds herself living with a kindly older couple after the presumed death of her parents. The "uncle" is an idealistic New Englander trying to create a school in the West modeled on utopian examples from transcendentalist Massachusetts. Into this house, drawn by the generous spirit of its inhabitants, come miners, journalists, travelers from yes Michigan, and children from the neighboring Spanish-speaking parts of the burgeoning city. But Eldora is also reintroduced to the mother she thought had vanished, who takes her off to explore more rural parts of the new state.
And here, as Eldora attempts to create a relationship with the woman from her past while maintaining connections with the people who have supported her for many years, the novel finds its tension and its emotion. As Eldora reveals herself through her letters, we are drawn into her world and learn to respect her intelligence and her generosity. Blos's novel contains a lovely historical vision, but it is also a view of Americans resisting prejudice and learning to live with each other during moments that might otherwise seem governed by greed and its resulting inhumanity. Her triumph is that she can do this and keep us fascinated by the emotions and development of the young woman who tells her story.
Joan Blos reads from Letters from the Corrugated Castle at Shaman Drum Bookshop on Wednesday, May 16.