12 January 2012

Excerpt Thursday: Oleanna by Julie K. Rose

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming historical fiction author Julie K. Rose, whose sophomore novel, OLEANNA, is set in Norway and America during the early 20th century.  Join us Sunday, when Julie will be here to talk about the book and give away a digital copy. Here's the blurb:

Set during the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, this richly detailed novel of love and loss was inspired by the life of the author's great-great-aunts.

Oleanna and her sister Elisabeth are the last of their family working their farm deep in the western fjordland. A new century has begun, and the world outside is changing, but in the Sunnfjord their world is as small and secluded as the verdant banks of a high mountain lake. With their parents dead and their brothers all gone to America, the sisters have resigned themselves to a simple life tied to the land and to the ghosts of those who have departed.

The arrival of Anders, a cotter living just across the farm's border, unsettles Oleanna's peaceful but isolated existence. Sharing a common bond of loneliness and grief, Anders stirs within her the wildness and wanderlust she has worked so hard to tame. When she is confronted with another crippling loss, Oleanna must decide once and for all how to face her past, claim her future, and find her place in a wide new world.

Oleanna was short-listed in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom novel competition, and will be available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other online retailers in late January.
An Excerpt from Oleanna

Elisabeth led them deeper into the forest and they settled with their backs against a fallen log. After a few moments, Oleanna took a long drink; the beer wasn't theirs—sharp with too much new grass—but she swallowed nearly half the bottle at one go, and then quickly dispatched the second.
Elisabeth finished off her own bottles and set them on the ground. They sat together quietly, feeling the beer work its magic, listening to the chatter of the crowds just beyond the curtain of trees.
Stretching, content as a cat, Elisabeth leaned into Oleanna. "What did Jakob want?" she whispered.
"What he always wants," she whispered.
"I can't."
"I know."
After a moment, Elisabeth looked up at Oleanna and grinned. "He is beautiful, though, isn't he?"
Oleanna stretched and smiled. "Yes, he is."
"I'll go find him," Elisabeth said, standing up a bit unsteadily, smoothing down the front of her skirt.
"And do what?" Oleanna asked.
"Just say hello," Elisabeth shrugged.
"Don't be cruel. He worships you."
Elisabeth scowled and stumbled down the gentle hillside, then regained her footing, setting her shoulders and walking away. When she reached the edge of the forest she turned around. "I worship him, too," she shrugged. She settled her face into a merry smile and walked back out into the crowds.
Oleanna rested her head against the log and closed her eyes, and dreamt not of the next pile of washing, or shearing the sheep, or making the lefse, but of high mountaintops and rowing, rowing around the lake, close to the shore, towing her mother and Anna behind.

Later she awoke, curled into a ball and covered dirt and twigs, to find it quiet and cool under the trees. If she stayed very still, she could just see a red fox melting into the hillside, hear a marsh tit calling to its mate. She sat up, yawning, and realized that the din of the crowd had lessened and if she concentrated, she could pick out different conversations – a gaggle of matrons next to the church, a couple high on the hillside above her, a group just beyond the trees below.
"Why can't you be happy for me?"
She recognized John's voice and picked her way down the hillside, brushing twigs off of her skirt. She peeked through the trees and saw John talking with Elisabeth and Anders; Elisabeth had her small hand closed on Anders' arm. Oleanna stepped back into the cover of the trees; she could no longer see them.
"You won't let him leave, will you?" Elisabeth asked.
"It's not my place," Anders replied.
"What on earth do you mean by that?" she demanded.
Oleanna smiled, imagining her sister with hands on hips.
"What he means," John said, "is he couldn't stop me, even if he tried." She could hear the laughter in her brother's voice.
"Could I?" Elisabeth said, more quietly.
"Could you what?"
"Could I stop you? If I tried?"
After a moment, John replied. "No. No, I have to go. I can't stay...If you could understand, Lisbet. Lisbet-"
"Let her go," Anders said.
After a few moments, she could hear her brother sigh. "She hates to be left behind," John said quietly.
"So take her with you."
"She would hate to go."
Oleanna closed her eyes. "Don't leave us," she whispered. The long winter, cold and dark despite the constant drifting of white snow, came back to her: the long winter after Anton had left. Only three years ago, she marveled, looking up at the green canopy, which then had been only sharp spikes of dark against the whiteness and ice.
Anton and her mother had quarreled: so soon after father had died. He promised to send money from the farm he hoped to establish, promised to write every week. Her mother sat stone-faced as John waited on the wagon's bench, Anton saying his goodbyes. He'd kissed their mother's cheek as she stared out at the lake. When John had returned from taking Anton to the ferry in Vadheim, their mother extracted a promise from him that he would never leave.
John was the only thing that kept them together, Oleanna thought. The only thing that kept them sane, during the last long dark winter, just after mama and Anna died. Steady and sure, reliable and strong. And now that the spring has finally come, he has thawed, and he'll be gone, too.
"You missed the children's parade."
Oleanna gasped. She opened her eyes and spun around. Anders leaned against a tall birch, hands in the pockets of his trousers.
She gathered herself. "Anders Samuelsson," she said.
He smiled at her formality. "Sleeping it off, were you?"
"Sleeping what off?" she demanded.
"The beer."
"Oh. No. Just tired."
He stepped away from the tree and walked up the hillside to stand next to her. "Why did she do it?"
"Do what?"
"Steal the beer. You've been drinking it since you were a child, why steal it?"
Oleanna blushed, then straightened her back. "Oh, that," she said. "The old men stand there, making all the rules, like they get to decide who drinks and who doesn't, and there we are, having to ask nicely and politely, just for a stupid bottle of beer. I hate it. So we take turns stealing as much as we can every year."
He laughed, that short, strange bark. "Very sensible," he smiled.
She narrowed her eyes, bristling. "You've never had to go begging for beer."
"How do you know?"
Oleanna shrugged. "You're a man. You don't have to beg for anything."
He grew serious. "Men may not have to work for their beer, there are things we do have to work for."
"Name one."
Oleanna looked sidelong at him. "Was it you that put up the proper flag?"
Anders smiled, a warm blush of excitement spreading across his cheeks. "No, not me. Though I'm glad they did."
Oleanna cocked her head. "Was it the young man? The one who spoke so well earlier?"
"Who is he?"
"He's from across the lake, near Årdal. He's been working in Førde and Bergen, and has contacts in the capital."
"Did you ask him to come?"
"Me? Oh, no," he said, looking down at her. "But I was very happy to make his acquaintance. He seems to think change is coming, and quickly."
She caught his excitement and laughed. "I'm glad to hear it."
They stood in the forest, the sunlight dappled around them, smiling at each other. After a moment, she grabbed his arm. "How did you know we took the beer?"
He smiled broadly, eyes sparkling. "Green suits you," he said.
She paused, taken aback, then raised an eyebrow. "Red suits you," she said, squeezing his jacketed arm.
His eyes widened momentarily, and then his grin softened into a fond smile. "You are a wild thing," he whispered, squeezing her hand gently before removing it from his arm.
"No more than you." She looked him in the eye.
He stared down at her, smiling, then abruptly turned and walked out of the forest.
Oleanna's eyes narrowed. "Oh no," she whispered after a few moments. "I can't do this again." And even so, Oleanna leaned against a birch tree, smiling, her face flushed and heart pounding.