From the first edition’s dust jacket:
The Able McLaughlins, Scotch Covenanters, devoted to one another, deeply pious, but humor-loving and full of the emotion and sentiment which exists under the craggy Scotch exterior, are leaders in a pioneer Iowa community, Isobel McLaughlin, mother of ten, and Wully, the oldest son, are characters in whom one feels the spirit and intelligence and dauntless courage that carved out our Western States. The story is Wully’s — his wooing, his bride, his home building and the fine triumphant victory to which the end of the book brings him.
First of all, The Able McLaughlins has a very serious and dark primary plot: the main character comes home to find that the woman he loves and wanted to marry has been raped and is with child by someone else in the community, so he runs off the rapist, marries the girl, and takes the blame in the community for the scandalous birth. And maybe I was just reading it wrong, or maybe Margaret Wilson intentionally wrote it this way to keep it from being terribly depressing, but the book as a whole seems a little bit ridiculous, with a large number of lighthearted and comic moments, as though the reality of the plot isn’t really taken seriously by the author. There is plenty of murderous intention and depression and anxiety tied to the main plot, but I had a hard time really buying it. I have to assume that Margaret Wilson didn’t write those emotions well, because I have a hard time believing she was making light of those emotions.
The Able McLaughlins is set in the final year of the Civil War and through reconstruction, in a small farming community, made up almost entirely of Scottish immigrants who are all somewhat related to each other, the larger national issues of the war and reconstruction are merely footnotes in the story. Although, Margaret Wilson also makes World War One a footnote in the story as well, taking brief moments throughout the book to look 50 years into the future and make brief, seemingly inconsequential comments about World War One. It felt as though she was trying to make it seem more relevant to the current time, despite the setting, and it always felt strange to me when she took those digressions.