To say that On Shifting Sand is a departure from Allison Pittman's other books is an understatement. I read and reviewed All for a Story last year, and while it was good, this one in incredible. Allison's characters are spot-on, and the storyline is amazing.
This story is set during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, where Nola Merrill lives with her husband, Russ, and their two children. Russ is the preacher in the small town that seems to be growing smaller by the day as the unrelenting dust and drought drive his parishioners away in droves. As the ground outside their small apartment dries up and blows away, Nola feels like she is drying up right along with it. Then Jim Brace enters her life. He's an old friend of her husband's, and he awakens something new and exciting inside Nola. She knows if she pursues these feelings, she will destroy her marriage. While Nola fights off the temptation for a while, she is continually drawn to Jim, and in a moment of weakness, she betrays Russ and his love. Nola tries to seek forgiveness from God for what she's done, but she is too afraid to tell Russ. Afraid that he'll not love her anymore, and afraid that her father was right about the kind of woman she was all along. As the outside conditions grow worse, so does Nola's spirit. She nearly starves herself to death, and after a stay in the city hospital, begs Russ to allow them to move. He is adamant that he will stay with his church, although he must take a job out of town to help pay for Nola's hospital bills. Alone in a town where the people only seem to tolerate her, Nola tries to put the past behind her, but with Russ gone for sometimes weeks at a time, she finds herself falling again. Nola feels that God is punishing her in every storm that blows through the Oklahoma dessert, but can she ever find the courage to confess to Russ and ask for his forgiveness?
The descriptions that Allison gives of how it felt to be in a dust storm are amazing. I'd never really given it much thought, but she made it seem so real, that I found myself reaching for my water bottle as I read. The dust seemed to completely take over their lives. It crept in under the doors, and windows and every little crack. It filled their houses, got into their beds, their clothes, their food and water and their mouths. The landscape could completely change from one day to the next if a large storm blew through. People actually got caught in the storms sometimes and suffocated on the dust.
Allison's characters are strong, but still seem realistic. Even though Russ is a wonderful father, husband and man of God, he has definite weaknesses, and makes mistakes. And even though Nola is a pastor's wife, she's not exempt from temptation and struggles of her own.
While this story could have been set in nearly any time period, I loved the author's choice to set it in the Dust Bowl. The dust storms that raged set a perfect backdrop for the storms that raged in Nola's soul. It was a great metaphor as the ground outside continued to wither away, and Nola slowly withered away on the inside, too. Nola was such a flawed woman. I think most women can relate to that. Even though she loves her husband, he is gone for long hours, and she craves something more. When the temptation comes along, she falls prey to it, instead of giving it to God, and sharing her weakness with her husband.
This is a beautiful story that represents God's love for us and His forgiveness even when we fail Him. Nola was trying to survive built on the shifting sands of life, and when the storms of temptation blew in, she couldn't withstand them. I hope that Miss Pittman will write more books like this one--a truly moving and meaningful story.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.