“It’s no goddamn wonder I live alone. I’m either working or in intensive care.”


This book reminds me of Lonesome Dove, only Wyoming instead of Texas and now instead of then. Rancher Barnum McEban (he had a twin named Bailey who died in infancy) with lifelong friend Bennett Reilly goes in pursuit of Bennett’s wife, who left them both for a physicist in Denver.

Women are always leaving guys like these, and Ansel knows why, Ansel being the family cowhand who showed up one day at the McEban ranch and never left, and who is also pretty much the chorus of this story. Ansel on Gretchen, the woman both Bennett and McEban (and, evidently, now the physicist) love.

“Bennett hasn’t got a hell of a lot going for him,” he says, “but at least he wasn’t bashful about telling her he loved her. She never had to wonder whether he cared…”

The story is told in alternating timelines, one of McEban as a boy and the other as McEban the man, and the elder hasn’t learned a hell of a lot more than the younger did. A hard, spare existence told in hard, spare prose, there is a lot of emptiness in the country reflected in the characters. It is an emptiness that drives some of the characters literally insane, and it feels like the only reason some of them keep living is because they don’t know how to do anything else.

He looks down at the dog. “It’s no goddamn wonder I live alone. I’m either working or in intensive care.”

In the end, McEban loses two family members and gains two more, and then he goes home. Gretchen doesn’t, and good for her. At least she has the sense to realize she needs more and the courage to reach for it.

Some wonderful descriptions of the country, but, Spragg says, there is a price for living there.

More of my Goodreads reviews here.

One of those very few good books that have been made into a good film.

an unfinished life

I saw the film and raved about it and everyone told me to read the book. I have now done so and I’m happy to report that this is one of those very few good books that have been made into a good film.

Jean Gilkyson escapes her abusive boyfriend and with her daughter Griff heads back to the one place in the world she’d rather not be–her father-in-law’s ranch in Wyoming. Father-in-law Einar is an embittered, recovering drunk whose only redeeming quality is his friendship for his cowboy cohort, Mitch Bradley, who is missing a kidney from a bear mauling a couple of years before. There’s an attractive sheriff, a wise diner owner, and a lot of neighbors who rally round when they’re needed, but mostly there is some very nice writing, especially Griff’s voice, as in

She opens her hands flat and presses down against her chest. No titties, she thinks. She’s still safe. She thinks that one morning she’ll wake up with breasts, maybe the start of hair between her legs, and everything will begin to go wrong. Just like things have gone wrong for her mother. Breasts attract trailer houses and pickup trucks and lots and lots of tears. She wishes her father were still alive. If he weren’t dead it would be safe to let her titties grow.

The Big Bad Boyfriend is a little too broadly drawn–we’ve all met him far too many times before– but still a book very much worth reading. “I’m careful about what I throw away,” Einar tells Griff. No, he isn’t, or he wasn’t, but now he’s got a second chance to take hold and hang on.

Second book in what appears to be a sort of trilogy. I’ll read the first one but I’m not sure I want to know what happens after.