A Country of Strangers

A Country of Strangers

a novel

Susan Richards Shreve


The year is 1942, the setting is Virginia farm country. A new owner is about to move into Elm Grove Farm. A new owner is about to move into Elm Grove Farm. Young, idealistic Charley Fletcher has brought his family from the Midwest to live in what he imagines will be utopia, while he does his part for the wartime government in Washington. At first glance the Fletchers — Charley; Lara, his beautiful, Danish-born wife; her adolescent daughter and their infant son — appear to be a happy, loving family. But closer examination reveals that they are, in fact, displaced persons struggling with wounds too raw to examine, secrets too dark to reveal or to live with.


In the evening, along Route 7 south of Washington, the farm — still called John Spencer’s place in spite of what had happened — filled the sky. It had been built by the Spencers before the Civil War on a high rise above the Potomac, white and colossal, inappropriate to the gentle watercolor landscape of the Virginia hills. Along the front, the land had been planted in great elms to name the place; Elm Grove, 1803 was painted in calligraphic letters on sign which marked the entrance, and for a century after a blight killed many of the elms in North America, the Spencers had kept the huge black skeleton trees. If you happened to be driving south, even familiar with the road after the curve at Tyson’s corner, there was something terrifying, especially at dusk, about the sudden and luminous appearance of what the natives of northern Virginia called Dead Elm Grove.

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