Review by Teresa Louis
“History gives us the facts. Fiction imagines the why.” –David Jessup
Takansy tightens her grip on the soft doeskin shroud holding her daughter’s body. The lightning is closer now, and she readies herself for a silent count of five. She prays her sleeping husband will not hear the sound she is about to make. (Mariano’s Crossing, 9)
With the first lines of Mariano’s Crossing, Colorado author David Jessup begins to imagine the why of Lena Medina’s missing body, which has never been found in the Medina family cemetery in Lo
veland, Colorado. Lena, a real person, was the daughter of Mariano Medina, a former mountain man and friend of Kit Carson, and his Flathead Indian wife, Takansy. Medina became the
wealthiest businessman and landowner along the Big Thompson River during the 1860s. As a mountain man, Medina had earned the admiration of the men with whom he lived and worked. However, his newly earned wealth could not buy him or his family the respect of the white homesteaders who were prejudiced on principle against Mexicans, Native Americans, and Catholics. (Ironically, John Alexander, the son of a particularly prejudiced homesteader, and Lena become friends and childhood sweethearts.) At the heart of Mariano’s Crossing are the family and community conflicts that arise from Medina’s struggle for respect and equality for himself and his family. Takansy’s wishes for her daughter, which tie into their shared Native American background, along with Alexander’s dreams of a life with Lena, directly contradict Medina’s ambitions. Torn apart by the three people she loves most, Lena finds it hard to visualize what she wants for her own life, which ultimately becomes the tragedy of the story for them all.
Alternately told through the eyes of the four main characters of the book–Mariano, Takansy, Lena, and John Alexander–Mariano’s Crossing is smoothly paced and taut with drama. The internal conflicts of the characters’ thoughts and feelings, and the external movement of events, pull them all forward through the story to its dramatic conclusion. The major characters are well rounded, each with a unique voice, as well as faults and virtues that determine their paths along the way. Jessup makes these characters, as well as the other men and women who settled the Front Range of Colorado, feel like neighbors as he vividly describes the hardships they faced and the beautiful countryside in which they lived.
Mariano’s Crossing was selected in 2013 as one of three finalists for the Colorado Book Award in Literary Fiction. For more information, visit www.davidmjessup.com.
Teresa Louis is the author and illustrator of In the Herbary: Herbal Poems, Recipes & Tips (Green Fuse Press, 2011). As a writer, her poems and articles have been published in multiple issues of IMPROV: An Anthology of Colorado Poets (2007-2012), The Colorado Writing Newsletter, Examiner, Community Business Journal, and Xposé. Louis’ illustrations were published in the 2009-2011 editions of IMPROV: An Anthology of Colorado Poets. She also illustrated Mother Tongue/lengua materna, by Katherine West, and Ladybug on the Odometer, by Charles Hansmann. Louis taught art and language arts to grades K-12 in public and private schools in Dallas, Texas, and Longmont, Colorado, for twenty years. She currently works as a writing consultant at the University of Colorado in Boulder and as a private writing tutor. In regards to her own writing, she is in the process of submitting her first novel for publication as well as in the midst of writing a second novel.For more information, visit www.teresalouiswritenow.com.