The Virgin Of Small Plains: A Novel by Nancy PickardThe Virgin Of Small Plains: A Novel by Nancy Pickard

The Virgin Of Small Plains: A Novel

byNancy Pickard

Paperback | May 29, 2007

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“Engrossing . . . beautifully written and carefully crafted . . . [a] work that explores the healing power of truth.”—The Boston Globe

For seventeen years, a rural community in Kansas has faithfully tended the grave of an anonymous teenage girl christened the Virgin of Small Plains. And some claim that, perhaps owing to the girl’s intervention, strange miracles and unexplainable healings have occurred. Slowly, word of the legend spreads.

But what really happened in that snow-covered field almost two decades ago, when the girl’s naked, frozen body was found? Why did young Mitch Newquist disappear the day after the shocking discovery, leaving behind his distraught girlfriend, Abby Reynolds, and their best friend, Rex Shellenberger?

Now Mitch has returned to Small Plains, reigniting simmering tensions and awakening secrets. Never having resolved her feelings for Mitch, Abby is determined to uncover the startling truth about his departure. The three former friends must confront the ever-unfolding consequences of the night that forever changed their lives—and the life of their small town.

Praise for The Virgin of Small Plains

“Nancy Pickard . . . has evolved into a writer of substantial literary power. . . . [She] has fashioned a novel that accurately reflects the secrets and silences locked deep within the hearts of all small-town Midwesterners.”The Denver Post

“Tantalizing . . . Pickard writes with insight and compassion about an unresolved crime that continues to haunt a farming community.”The New York Times Book Review

“A class act . . . Pickard has a talent for adding depth to a story that conveys a sense of place and history.”Orlando Sentinel

“Crisply written, this new novel about loss of faith, trust, and innocence is utterly absorbing.”Tucson Citizen
Nancy Pickard is the creator of the acclaimed Jenny Cain mystery series. She has won the Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and two Agatha Awards for her novels. She is a three-time Edgar Award nominee, most recently for her first Marie Lightfoot mystery, The Whole Truth, which was a national bestseller. With Lynn Lott, Pickard co-aut...
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Title:The Virgin Of Small Plains: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:368 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.78 inShipping dimensions:8 × 5.2 × 0.78 inPublished:May 29, 2007Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345471008

ISBN - 13:9780345471000

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great mystery elements I have been looking forward to reading this book for quit a while. I had not read anything written by Nancy Pickard before, but the short synopsis on the back sounded so intriguing,. In addition, the book is a group read for my book club, 1001 Five Star Books. It turns out I enjoyed the book very much. The Virgin of Small Plains is a story about how often people residing in a small community live in fear and can lock secrets in for their entire lives all for the sake of protecting themselves, a loved one and even close friends. I enjoyed the flawed characters. It seemed everyone had something to hide. At about the half-way point, I started to suspect a few of the characters as shady, but one female character surprised me with her role in the mystery surrounding Sarah’s death. I had a very different impression of the character in question in the first half of the book. I will say there were slow sections in the book, but the plot didn’t slow down enough to make me lose interest or stop wondering about the mysterious death. The author told the story in two different time periods which I did find confusing sometimes. Not a five star read for me, but definitely a strong four.
Date published: 2011-02-15

Read from the Book

Chapter One January 23, 2004 Abby Reynolds braked her truck on the icy highway, startled by what she imagined she saw off to the side of the road. That can’t be, she thought, as she squinted into the snow, trying to see more clearly. When the wind blew an opening in the blizzard, Abby realized that it was not a hallucination. It was not an impossible illusion sketched on the early morning air by the gusting snow. It was . . . good grief! . . . it was Nadine Newquist in a bathrobe, surrounded by swirling white, struggling through drifts on the old cemetery road, as if she were determined to visit a particular grave on this particular morning. My God! It was Nadine: the judge’s wife, Mitch’s mom, Abby’s own late mother’s lifelong friend. It really was Nadine, a woman who was sixty-three years old and speeding toward early Alzheimer’s at about the same rate that Abby’s pickup truck was sliding sideways on Highway 177. What the hell was Nadine doing out there? She was all by herself, in a bathrobe, for God’s sake, in a blizzard . . . Abby pumped her brakes with a light touch of her foot, didn’t slam on them like a fool, but her truck started to spin anyway, going round and round on the two-lane blacktop like a two-ton skater on ice. She let her steering wheel alone, waiting for it to stop spinning before she touched it again. Coffee sloshed out of her lidless thermal cup in its holder by her knee; the smell of it filled the cab of her truck. She could still taste her last sip of it, along with the fruit and cereal she’d had for breakfast—all of which was now threatening to come back up her throat. With a shudder, the truck came out of the spin and started slid- ing sideways again, skidding in a long diagonal across the yellow line into the eastbound lane. A heavy drift of snow slowed it down and changed the direction of the slide, until it was going backward. The skid went on and on, picking up speed as it backed into the crest of a rise, then dropped down again, taking the bottom of Abby’s stomach with it. And still the truck stayed on the pavement, hemmed in by snow, avoiding the shoulders, the deep culverts, the barbed wire fencing beyond. People thought Kansas was all flat, but it wasn’t, and especially not in the heart of the Flint Hills. The roads in this part of the state were long and straight, but they soared up and plunged down like curved ribbons of hard taffy. Abby felt a wild hopeful moment of wondering if her truck could somehow manage to slide its way safely all the way back into town on the wrong side of the road. That would be a miracle. As she sat helplessly moving back the way she’d come, like a passenger on a roller coaster in reverse, she looked up the highway to the west, hoping not to see headlights coming at her. That way looked clear. In this strange, slow motion, made to feel even more eerie and timeless in the swirling snow, she felt as if she had all the time in the world before whatever was going to happen in the next few moments happened. She felt strangely calm, even curious about the possibility of crashing, but she didn’t feel calm about Nadine out there in the snow. She grabbed her cell phone from the seat beside her. In the uncanny suspension of time, as her truck drew two long parallel lines in the snow on the highway, Abby realized she might be able to get out of her seat belt, throw open her door, and dive out. But if she did, what if her cell phone broke in her fall, or she hurt herself too badly to call for help? Then nobody would know about Nadine. Mitch’s mom could fall out there in the cemetery, be covered by snow, she could die . . . If I don’t jump, I’ll crash with the truck. Nadine . . . Heart pounding, stomach queasy, no longer feeling calm about anything, Abby gave up the idea of trying to jump to save herself. Instead, she punched in the single digit that called the Sheriff’s cell phone. It was on auto-dial, because Rex Shellenberger was as long and close a friend to her as Nadine had been to both of their mothers, as close as Mitch had been to Rex and Abby, once upon a happy time, a long time ago. “Sheriff Shellenberger,” he said, calm as toast. But it was his recorded message. It went straight from those two words to the beep, wasting no time for people in emergencies. “Rex! It’s Abby! Nadine Newquist is wandering in the snow in the cemetery. Come help me get her out of there and take her home!” She felt the truck veer left, and then felt it in her back and bottom first as the ride got rough and the rear tires slid onto gravel underneath snow. Her roller-coaster ride, her trip back through time, was almost over. Nobody would believe she had traveled so far on ice without crashing, Abby thought as the ride got rougher. Panicked thoughts flashed through her brain, images without words. Should she call Nadine’s husband, Tom? No, the judge was a notoriously bad driver in the best of weather, and a veritable menace at the first hint of moisture on the roads. Everybody knew that. Nobody with any sense ever consented to step into a car if Judge Tom Newquist was driving it, especially if it was raining, snowing, or sleeting. She’d only get him—or somebody else—killed if she called him out in this storm. Frightened, Abby looked out the windshield just before it tilted up toward the sky. In that split second, she glimpsed Mitch’s mom again. Nadine’s bathrobe was a tiny slash of deep rose on white, a hothouse flower inexplicably set outside on a winter’s day. Abby knew the robe was expensive, soft and silky to the touch. She’d seen Nadine wearing it a lot lately, because she insisted on spending her days and nights in lingerie. It hardly mattered, since she didn’t seem to be able to distinguish night from day anymore. When the judge or the nursing attendants he hired to watch her tried to get her into other clothes, she fought them. Abby knew the robe was made of thin material. The body under it was also thin, with hardly an ounce of fat to protect Nadine from the fierce cold that wrapped around her now. At sixty miles an hour, Abby’s truck hit the far side of the cement culvert with a crash that telescoped the exhaust pipes, flattened half of the metal bed, tore through the transmission, ripped out the gears, and shut the engine off. It was a ten-year-old truck with no air bags. Her seat belt saved her from being thrown into her windshield, but not from being slammed sideways into the window.

Bookclub Guide

1. The Virgin of Small Plains is your eighteeenth novel, but the first you’ve set in your home state of Kansas. Why have you waited until now? What challenges presented themselves in writing about an area and community so close to home?2. What inspired you to write this story? Was the genesis of The Virgin of Small Plains significantly different from the ideas that spawned your previous books?3. What about the development of the novel? Did this book present any unique challenges?4. The action shuttles back and forth in time, altnerately charting the events that lead to and follow from the Virgin’s death in 1987 and the repercussions still simmering seventeen years later. Why did you choose to braid the two narratives in this way? Was it difficult to keep your timelines straight?5. How carefully do you map the plots of your books before setting down to write? Do your characters sometimes surprise you?6. Did you find it hard to adopt and sustain the perspectives and voices of multiple narrators in The Virgin of Small Plains? Were certain characters more readily accessible to you than others?7. You really capture the rhythms of adolescent thought, from Rex’s sexual frustrations to Abby’s heartbreak. Did you base their travails on your own experiences? On those of anyone you know?8. You never expressly tip your hat to divine intervention in The Virgin of Small Plains, but there are indications throughout the text that some higher power may be at play–even though the story carefully supplies more plausible explanations for seemingly extraordinary events. (Case in point: The climactic car crash, which evokes the clockwork precision of a deus ex machina but at the same time seems like an natural narrative development.) Do you believe in the supernatural or spiritual?9. The subplot involving Catie Washington both complements and nicely counters the murder mystery at the heart of The Virgin of Small Plains. Did you specifically conceive this character and her story to vary the tone of the book, or did they evolve organically from the story?10. The twister that dominates the central passage of the novel alters not only the town of Small Plains but also the shape of the action unfolding there: Abby sees Mitch again; Catie’s faith is providentially confirmed; and the reader is properly introduced to Jeff Newquist, a pivotal minor character. How did you hit upon the idea of this perfect storm, so to speak?11. You’ve achieved success and acclaim as an author of mysteries. Have you always been interested in that genre?12. How did you launch your career?13. As many reviewers noted, The Virgin of Small Plains transcends the parameters of that genre. Do you feel that this book delves into new territory for you as a writer?14. What are you working on next?15. It must be asked: Have you ever experienced a tornado firsthand?

Editorial Reviews

“Engrossing . . . beautifully written and carefully crafted . . . [a] work that explores the healing power of truth.”—The Boston Globe“Nancy Pickard . . . has evolved into a writer of substantial literary power. . . . [She] has fashioned a novel that accurately reflects the secrets and silences locked deep within the hearts of all small-town Midwesterners.”—The Denver Post“Tantalizing . . . Pickard writes with insight and compassion about an unresolved crime that continues to haunt a farming community.”—The New York Times Book Review “A class act . . . Pickard has a talent for adding depth to a story that conveys a sense of place and history.”—Orlando Sentinel “Crisply written, this new novel about loss of faith, trust, and innocence is utterly absorbing.”—Tucson Citizen