Book Review: Dakota Blues by Lynn Spreen


Dakota Blues is a book I heard about through Twitter. I was drawn to it because the setting is North Dakota. Back in the day, I first flew to North Dakota on North Central Airlines and arrived in Fargo in the middle of winter.

My contact met me outside the airport driving a rugged four wheel drive vehicle. The wind blew constantly and produced what looked to be a permanent swirling mist of snow that came up to my knees.

Lynn’s book gives us a taste of Los Angeles before we get to North Dakota.Two places entirely opposite.  We are immediately introduced  to Karen Grace who works for an LA based company as their human resources director. Her boss, Wes, is a boss few of us would admire. In my mind he is one of the villains of the story, but he is also the catalyst for what Karen does with the rest of her life.

At fifty years old, Karen has been almost blissfully counteracting and softening Wes’s demands of others. Then one day her boss interferes with events which have produced for Karen a timeline not of her making. This brings pressures ill timed and unwarranted that Wes certainly exacerbates. Karen had no plans for changing her life, but life is about to change her.

As Wes accelerates his lack of tact toward Karen’s co-workers and brings on an utter lack of compassion for her, he drives Karen to reconsider what she took to be her life’s work.  A work she has been compulsively performing.

Although Karen has been living and working in California for some time, her formative years were in North Dakota. Her mother and many of childhood friends still live there. She has become used to Wes as well as to California and host of other things.

Then one day she receives a phone call from a cousin that her mother has died. Against Wes’s wishes she returns to “her hometown on the Northern Plains.”

Upon her arrival in North Dakota, we learn that her husband is leaving her. What follows is a dialogue at the airport with her cousin Lorraine.

“Where’s Steve?” 

Karen blinked, lost in her memories. “He’s not here. He couldn’t come.” 

Lorraine reached for a suitcase. “Is everything okay?”

Karen stopped what she was doing and looked Lorraine in the eye. Around them, the terminal cleared as North Dakotans headed for town. “I think we’re getting divorced.”

Having spent a dozen or more years in Minnesota, eight in California, and now over twenty in New England, I love the way author Lynn Spreen paints the picture of North Dakota as compared to the West (or indirectly the East). It is a place that stands on its own, and except for, or because of winter, a good place to live. As the book unfolds, so much of life gets in Karen’s way and yet each obstacle becomes an opportunity.

I found the way life molded me at fifty far different (and maybe more effective) than when I was twenty. Perhaps  it wasn’t life that changed, but me. This is how I saw Karen. Her life experiences accumulated at fifty enabled her to take on events that conceivably at a younger age she might not have considered.

Dakota Blue’s characters are delightful and real. Karen gets reacquainted with old friends and meets some new ones, among them a splendid woman of about ninety years old who has lots of adventure.

In the second half  of the book the tensions increase and (maybe metaphorically) the pace grows ever more rapid. As Karen’s escapades expand and contract, the reader is taken on an exciting journey. I highly recommend Dakota Blues.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Dakota Blues by Lynn Spreen

  1. Lynne Spreen January 23, 2013 / 10:44 am

    Thanks so much for this gorgeous review, Bob. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  2. jhvn January 23, 2013 / 5:25 pm

    Sounds like good images of the midlife journey.

  3. Carole Webber January 26, 2013 / 9:55 am

    I have spent sometime in Fargo ND and agree the landscape is bleak and the wind never ceases. However, the people are warm, friendly and family oriented which compensates for the place. I think I would like to read this book .Karen sounds like an interesting character whose life I want to read about.

    • Lynne Spreen January 27, 2013 / 10:34 pm

      Carole, that was part of what I wrote about – the beauty of the people, especially family. I emphasized also how creative and industrious everybody is (esp. due to the long winters!)

  4. Christine Gutkowski January 27, 2013 / 5:29 pm

    I am really wanting to read this- to “visit” North Dakota while skipping the winter! Right now it seems hard to imagine someone leaving sunny California for ND- it will be interesting to see what Karen decides to do with the rest of her life.

    • fictionfitz January 27, 2013 / 8:42 pm

      I hope Lynn writes a sequel. Meanwhile, you have something to look forward to. Let me know what you think. See you soon.

    • Lynne Spreen January 27, 2013 / 10:37 pm

      Christine, that’s part of Karen’s dilemma, because she loves both places. It was fun painting a picture of Calif. as both inspiring and wonderful, and also nutso. But at the same time, ND is a mixed bag. A writer’s dream!

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