Heartless Heartland is actually a book with a lot of heart in it. I was intrigued by the description of it as a story of a piece of Iowa farmland with a terrible curse on it that haunts people over 140 years. I expected something more typical of horror films where stupid teenagers go into places they shouldn’t go and consequently are killed by chainsaw murderers or the like. Instead, it is a very well-thought out tale of a family over the course of generations who through no fault of their own, end up being terrorized for generations because they settle on a piece of cursed property. Heartless Heartland is very much in the tradition of the Gothic novel where Gothic plots are family plots.
What Bradtke does so well in the novel is detail the family’s inner-workings, their struggles and the family members’ relationships with one another. The back of the book states of the author that “she has a special interest in both the human psyche and in paranormal events and how the two sometimes interact”. That interest is apparent throughout the book where people with weaknesses, due to alcoholism, or greed, or being in an abusive family allow that weakness to overcome them to the point where the haunted land can get a hold on them and use a person’s weaknesses to carry out its thirst for revenge.
The book starts out reading almost like a collection of short stories about the haunted land for the first hundred pages, befire focusing on the family of Rudy Baumann in the 1960s and 1970s. Rudy is in many ways the victim of the land already because his parents have died as a result of the curse and he is raised in another family. He grows up with some serious emotional problems but tries to live the right way as he marries and raises children, yet his inner demons overpower him, and when he moves back to the family farm in hopes of making a better life, the story climaxes. To say more would give away the plot, but since the story ends in the 1970s, I would be curious if Bradtke intends to write a sequel to bring the story up to the present day.
Overall, the novel is fast-paced and a fun page-turner to read. One comes to care about the characters and their struggles and to hope everything will work out for them. The conclusion is well-conceived rather than just a prearranged ending the story leads up to. It may even make you think twice about ever visiting Iowa.
- Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. author of Iron Pioneers, for MQT REVIEWS
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