It is The War to End All Wars, and Ena Connelly, a keenly sensory and extraordinary woman, is newly married and living on an Ontario farm. The shock of violence in far-off battlefields is echoed in a terror much closer to hand. With bold perception and remarkable self-reliance, Ena faces a dramatically altered world. Ena is self-contained, and careful not to reach too far into the turbulent emotional lives of others. As the war progresses, Ena forms a fierce bond of loyalty for Blain, the delightful but (necessarily) duplicitous boy who comes to work for her. Through Blain, she learns to extend herself in unexpected ways— to reach outside of herself, and to risk. Ena also grows closer to her sister-in-law, Sarah, a gifted painter. Sarah is unafraid of confronting emotional turmoil and passion but she doesn’t have Ena’s absolute clarity of purpose and aim. Ena helps Sarah move closer to the life she wants, while Sarah opens Ena to a terrible and essential kind of beauty. When studying Sarah’s paintings, Ena comments that it is not the surface that matters, but rather what is underneath. The same is true of this novel — underneath the meticulous detail of daily life is the emotional landscape of persistent, courageous women, watching the violence of war in Europe (World War I) and domestic violence closer to home.
“The Land’s Long Reach presents a vivid, engaging portrait of Bruce Peninsula farm life during World War I, when “the old conventions have been shattered.” So much has been written about soldiers’ wartime experience; this moving novel includes women’s perspectives in an era when our national identity was being shaped. A century later, their struggle is as timely as it is historical.”
—Penn Kemp, author of Local Heroes and Fox Haunts
“While most literature set in the period of World War I focuses on the horrors facing soldiers in the trenches, Valerie Mills-Milde’s beautiful novel explores the hardships confronting the men and women who must stay behind. Using memorable images, she explores the life of Ena, a farm-woman who faces violence and tyranny on the home-front. Though Ena’s grief is, as the author says, “a private tidal sea,” she surmounts it with courage, knowing that it’s the “long, sure reach of the land” she loves that will ultimately save her. Valerie Mills-Milde’s mastery of character and language is unforgettable.”
—Ann Birch, author of The Secret Life of Roberta Greaves