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Fencing the Sky: A Novel

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  258 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
From critically acclaimed author of The Meadow comes a haunting novel of the American West.

Circumstances spiral out of control when an accidental murder springs from the best intentions. With one man dead and another on the run, this is a story about violence and how it destroys lives when the land is at stake. This lyrical first novel--long-awaited by the many admirers of
Paperback, 276 pages
Published December 1st 2000 by Picador (first published 1999)
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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryTrue Grit by Charles PortisBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
Best Westerns
284th out of 753 books — 989 voters
The Bone Feud by Wynne McLaughlinLonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryThe Meadow by James GalvinThe Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthyFencing the Sky by James Galvin
Fictional works about the American West
4th out of 35 books — 18 voters

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Community Reviews

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Mar 10, 2014 David rated it liked it
Not as good as Galvin's earlier work, 'The Meadow'. The latter has a more mythical, gentle quality. Don't get me wrong, this novel is beautifully written and does pull you into its world, it just lacks that mystical quality I came to so admire in Galvin's writing in 'The Meadow'.

Fencing the Sky is about the transformation of the West from an agrarian world inhabited by humble cowboys and ranchers, into an exclusive world of holiday homes for metropolitan yuppies. The author clearly highlights t
Charlie Quimby
Nov 25, 2014 Charlie Quimby rated it it was amazing
Shelves: colorado-books
It's rare for me to finish a book quickly. Sometimes it's the author's fault when I don't but usually it's because I find other things to do. When I gulp one down in 24 hours, though, I give full credit to the writer.

In this case, James Galvin.

I'd been on the lookout for his THE MEADOW, so when I came across FENCING THE SKY in a used bookstore, I brought it home and got roped in immediately by the opening scene in which Mike, a struggling small-time rancher, lassos a rapacious developer neighbor
Inken Purvis
Jul 09, 2014 Inken Purvis rated it really liked it
James Galvin is a renowned writer who has written six volumes of poetry as well as two novels: [b][i]The Meadow[\b][\i] and [b][i]Fencing the Sky[\b][\i]. Whilst I’m not familiar with Mr Galvin’s poetry (yet), his novels read like an extended poem, conveying a sharp and uncluttered image of the land and people he is describing. The writing is sparse but not bleak – not a word or phrase is wasted. His poems have been described as having “a profound sense of place” and that is certainly true of hi ...more
Apr 21, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing
James Galvin is a poet, and his vision of the people who inhabit the land where this story takes place is also poetic. Instead of a straightforward narrative from beginning to middle to end, it intermingles scenes from the lives of several characters told in flashbacks and flashforwards, all sequenced along the spine of a single plot line that involves the pursuit of a fugitive who has killed another man.

The location is northern Colorado and parts of Wyoming extending through the Great Divide Ba
Mar 18, 2010 Linda rated it liked it
My mother would have loved this book for its quirky, individualistic characters and for the many geographical references to the Colorado/Wyoming border country she so loved.

I'm enjoying the book, however, the piecemeal bytes about the many characters and the disjointed time line bug the heck out of me. It feels like watching a two-hour collection of unedited, hand-held camera shots. I figured that by the time I was half way through the book, I would have begun to understand the cuts and to keep
Apr 08, 2012 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, western
A modern western that shines a light at what exactly that means now. The main tension, as ever, lies in the changing nature of the landscape. There's a new type of settler - the 40 acre ranchette owner - at odds with the stewardship and recent history of the land. Only there's no simple blame, them being as much duped into their situation by developers and the larger American dream.

The novel setup mainly follows the horseback trek of Mike Arans after the mostly accidental killing of developer Sn
Peter Derk
Sep 25, 2010 Peter Derk rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
This is one of those perfect books that makes it difficult to pick up anything else afterwards.

Though it's a novel, this is a nice companion book to James Galvin's classic, the Meadow. You could almost think of it as part II as the time is closer to the present, and the end of the Meadow, at which point open land is being parceled and essentially destroyed, is the beginning of this book.

The book has an almsot Edward Abbey feel to it in terms of the changing landscape and different groups fighti
Sep 04, 2009 Nicola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not "The Meadow," but still a fine work about the West. And similar in that, though this book is much more plot-driven, it weaves an intricate web of times and connections. Can't help but relate this strange web of vignettes to a broken fence--I blame the evocative title, which, as I read, changed its meaning from, at first blush, a negative fence, to a more quixotic one: try as these ranchers may, they're losing the battle to keep their West intact, the one where good neighbors mend--and close! ...more
Feb 14, 2012 Cody rated it liked it
Shelves: the-west, colorado
A text about how lives are forged from the accretion of seemingly isolated events, Fencing the Sky is a powerful reminder of how land, in every aspect, dictates life in the American West. At the core of the novel is Mike Arans’s flight on horseback, the consequence of a mostly accidental murder. We piece together the larger import of the story via fragments of lives and actions spanning the fifty years prior, and in doing so we see not only why Mike was compelled to act in the manner that he did ...more
Apr 28, 2016 Madi rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. I hated the first 80 pages, until I began to connect the stories and see them as lives unfolding before me. This book was artistic and I look forward to reading it again in the (distant) future.
Jan 27, 2012 Cathy rated it liked it
I had a hard time reading it, much slower than my usual reads. That said, I think the author does a good job of evoking the emotions in the book through his words--in that sense it reminded me of Blindness. I think this is a good book for someone who likes the western genre and non-chronological story lines with some political soapbox thrown in for good measure.

I loved Mike's story and had the book just been Mike's story, with some of his friend's subplots, I would have enjoyed it much more. I w
Jan 09, 2011 Dpdwyer rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
The author is a poet who lives along the Wyoming-Colorado border. This, his first novel, tells of the clash between old time ranchers and the new 20 acre ranchette weekenders. The characters are well drawn, the plot carries you along, and the ending is completely unexpected and believable. The story is told is short vignettes that jump back and forth in time. I didn't love this aspect but I may reread it at some point the better understand the chronology. The prose is tight and, for me at least, ...more
Aug 23, 2015 Emily rated it it was ok
Beautifully evocative of the vistas and wildness that still possess the west. I did not like the black and white of it, the masochist view that is resistant to change, the live free or die of it. I would rather read Zane Grey and his pulp, than this.
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
What a great find! Fencing the Sky is a classic tale of the west. Those who enjoyed Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy and Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove will find much to appreciate in Fencing the Sky... but this time the story is a modern one. Here, people looking to escape the chaos of city life bring with them the development that ruins the peacefulness of the landscape that brought them there in the first place. James Galvin is first a poet, and it shows in this novel. His writing is beautifu ...more
Feb 11, 2015 Lane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-novel
a good story about the "new" west over taking the "old" west. good characters
May 30, 2012 Scott rated it really liked it

A story about the 'disappearing' West, though not disappearing, just changing. Built around a rancher who murders a developer in the opening paragraphs, the book is written in a series of flashbacks as it meanders to its conclusion. The main characters: rancher, vet, doctor, all have deep ties to the land. The developer is an opportunist, taking advantage of those who want to experience the West themselves. I must say that at first you are surprised the developer is killed, wondering why this w
Bethmck McKinnon
Dec 10, 2010 Bethmck McKinnon rated it it was amazing
I read this when it was first published over a decade ago. I originally gave it 4 stars. The Meadow 5 stars. But I find this book about people ceding their hearts to a glorious, god given, but ultimately unforgiving landscape keeps haunting me. I have moved from an easy living, magnificent landscape in Oregon to the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. From 500 ft elevation to 5,800 feet. I am surrounded by stunning landscape, awesome critters and the ragged vestiges of people who have tried to "fence the ...more
Sep 29, 2014 Lori rated it really liked it
Everything a novel should be. Large in concept. large in human complexity. Large in setting. And bursting with poetry.

I can't give it five stars because I felt like the pace/essence tapered off and didn't keep up with the gorgeous poetry of it all.
Oct 20, 2008 Kathy rated it really liked it
Good story of the ranching area of Northern Colorado/Southern Wyoming changing from ranches to residential "40-acre ranchettes". The perspective of the men who were from the ranches was realistic, describing how they moved cattle in large, unfenced areas. Mr. Galvin described riding horses through the brush in ways that only a person riding a horse would know. The onset of a murder is an opening that keeps the reader very interested.
Dec 19, 2009 Micheal rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 03, 2013 Virginia rated it it was amazing
This will remain one of my all time favorite books. There are many paragraphs that I reread to glean out the beauty and truth. The story is the story of changes to the land, progress and destruction of the old. The characters are archetypes that we all are familiar with, sculpted into living forms. I am so glad that I read this book. James Galvin is a poet.
Nov 06, 2013 Jo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
For those who live in the middle of our nation and have witnessed the changes brought about by the oil boom or hollywoood's encroachment o urban development, this book will bring tears to your eyes and tug at every single heartstring you have. Galvin does a terrific job of developing a sense of place and I love his offbeat characters.
Tremendous book. Stories within stories within stories, gasping surprises. I *loved* this book. What a (modern) western this is! I enjoyed it as much as I did Shane and Lonesome Dove. I didn't want this book to end. I loved the characters, I got angry along with them, sad with them. I rooted for them. Read this, read this. It's awesome.
Nov 06, 2007 Caroline-manring rated it really liked it
I think I was able to love this book in spite of itself, and with the help of having read Galvin's poetry and The Meadow. The seams between poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and transitional voices are a little frankensteinish. Nonetheless, there's a deep need in this book characteristic of Galvin that I have a terrible stoft spot for.
Carol Crockett
This contemporary western addresses issues dealing with land use, boundaries, and development, including grazing & mineral rights, fence-out laws, and other problems that threaten today's ranchers. It is a novel about change, within and beyond a person.
Aug 28, 2007 Julie rated it really liked it
This picks up some of the same characters from 'The Meadow', but stylistically follows the novel far more closely than 'The Meadow' does. There are some hokey bits, but the characters become gradually endearing, and the story makes you mad just often enough.
Robert Moore
Aug 12, 2013 Robert Moore rated it liked it
Loved the descriptions and characters in this Colorado/Wyoming story that paints a vivid images of life in that part of the country. Jumped around too much from past to present and characters displayed limited dimensions. Good ending.
Jan 17, 2012 Sally rated it liked it
A good story, nicely told, but a little preachy. I can see why people who aren't allergic might like the rancher lifestyle, but to me it is an unsustainable idea not worth preserving. Kinda like the U.S. Mail.
Sep 06, 2008 Shelly rated it really liked it
Picked it up in a small bookshop in Utah and couldn't put it down. Incredible story that follows a man and his horse on the run -- from a murder he couldn't help but commit, and his past.
Jan 25, 2010 Mary rated it it was amazing
I learned that strong emotions come over you even if you're a cowboy on the run and the description of the doctor's marriage comes pretty close to how I feel about mine. Excellent!!
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