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Five Skies

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  945 Ratings  ·  212 Reviews
Award-winning short story writer Ron Carlson delivers a stirring novel about three men confronting their pasts and their purpose

Beloved story writer Ron Carlson's first novel in thirty years, Five Skies is the story of three men gathered high in the Rocky Mountains for a construction project that is to last the summer. Having participated in a spectacular betrayal in Los
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 17th 2007 by Viking Adult (first published May 1st 2007)
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Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyLonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryTrue Grit by Charles PortisAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyThe Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck
Best Contemporary Western Novels
25th out of 57 books — 76 voters
The Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckIn the Time of the Butterflies by Julia AlvarezThe Joy Luck Club by Amy TanMy Ántonia by Willa CatherTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
NEA Big Read
39th out of 50 books — 3 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,691)
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Will Byrnes
Mar 29, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 13, 2008 martha rated it really liked it
This book is a slow-paced story of labor among strangers. By the end, you willwish that Ronnie, Darwin, and Arthur Key were your real life friends. You will be sorry to let go of them. This is a story of pain and loss and past regrets, of atonement played out through hard labor. It is an engaging story about real people.
Nov 29, 2015 Perri rated it really liked it
A short spare story as quiet as a whisper- you have to pay attention or you'll miss something. Three men battling their personal demons are thrown together for a project of hard work in an secluded environment. I didn't like the ending but it felt fitting.
Nov 19, 2014 Eve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm so glad I read this NPR Pick from 2007. This is would make a great movie! I picture Will Farrell as Art and Lucas Black (the "Slingblade" boy) as Ronnie. This is a book that you need to talk about with someone!
Apr 25, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing
Well into this novel, I was ready to give it six stars for the beauty of its vision and the strength of its characterization - in particular the way it describes exactly how men work together and guardedly learn to trust each other. The gentle needling humor in the sparse exchanges of dialogue and the focus on work to be done, plus the soul-satisfying nature of work well done, accurately represent a quiet masculine world that is seldom seen in fiction. I instantly recognized the three men in thi ...more
Allison DeLauer
Nov 14, 2009 Allison DeLauer rated it it was amazing
Someone said to me that Ron Carlson is a “writer’s writer.” And I believe it. I first heard him give a reading at the Napa Valley Writer’s Conference in 2008. He was funny, grounded, and just the kind of guy you’d want around if your car broke down, or if you’d lost a mattress off the back of your truck on the way to a fancy function. Which happened to be -the plot of a wonderful story he read that night.

I gave Five Skies to my father last Christmas, and I will most certainly circulate it to my
May 26, 2008 William rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western-america
Five Skies follows what should be a fine formula for a short novel: the characters are familiar; the setting is dramatic; the issues are those that have been sounded in a number of novels of the American West. The problem is that the genus of brooding Western men is an overplayed type; while publishers may not get enough of them, perhaps readers can. We have met these men — whose pains are buried, whose losses are great, whose relationships with women are muted, awkward, and transparently affect ...more
Dick Gullickson
Aug 16, 2010 Dick Gullickson rated it it was amazing
You may have seen Janie's review, so I will keep this short. This is our second Ron Carlson book -- we also greatly enjoyed "Signal." We listened to this one on a CD driving back from Minnesota. Carlson is a great story teller with a knack for character development. He also does a wonderful job of capturing the feeling of living and working in the mountains, in this story, an Idaho construction site far away from civilization. I've often thought of trying to write a book someday. I can't think o ...more
Vera Marie
Feb 04, 2011 Vera Marie rated it it was amazing
As I read Five Skies I realized I was learning something about my father, that I had never thought about before. That's the way it is with novels that rise above the ordinary. Literature teaches us something about the people we know, as well as bringing to life places and people we don't know.

"Measure twice, cut once," my father would say. His strict father, a tin smith who worked on furnaces and ductwork, insisted he do things right. "Live so that the world will be a little better when you leav
Jul 30, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it
This one grew on me as it unfolded, and I found a richness in its spareness. Three men, one old, one middle aged, and one a youth, come together in a remote Idaho setting to build a ramp and accommodations for a future spectacle of a motorcycle jump across a river gorge. Each one is recovering from personal disasters in their lives and seeks some kind of escape or redemption. Despite the relative meaninglessness of the particular job, they each gain a lot through the satisfaction of carrying out ...more
Dec 16, 2008 Nathan rated it liked it
My first encounter with Carlson, and I liked the terrain of this novel a lot –– three strangers who are brought together to complete a construction project on a windswept plateau in Idaho. The three men are diversely compelling, but Carlson portrays with too heavy a hand the personal/emotional setbacks (two deaths and an affair with a brother's wife) they're fleeing. He also has a really curious way of handling "big" urgent scenes, of which there aren't actually very many (and not to the book's ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Ron Carlson-A Kind of Flying (2003), At the Jim Bridger (2002), The Hotel Eden (1997)-is one of the best-kept secrets in American letters, though he hasn't published a novel in three decades (focusing on short fiction instead), and he certainly doesn't make his living on flash and dash. Nonetheless, he's considered one of the best stylists working today, his name uttered along with those of Wallace Stegner, Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison, Kent Haruf, and other writers who explore the terrain and u

Feb 08, 2008 Gordon rated it it was ok
I really like Ron Carlson. His stories are full of memorable characters acting memorably, they exist in small interactions and come to grips with the world around them. After 50 pages I had to check the book flap (and I am still not entirely convinced) to see if I was reading some other Ron Carlson. This book is fragmented, the charecters are fine, but under drawn, It is almost as if he had 1,000 pages and cut them down to the 250 he put in the book. The book was an exercise in one of his streng ...more
Feb 19, 2013 Nicolle rated it really liked it
Members of my book club were spot on with the description that this book felt a bit like a "guy's book." 3 men, building a stupid ramp in the middle of nowhere, all contending with personal problems. The book was a bit technical with the building description and I found myself skipping over those sections often to get to the "good stuff," which in my opinion was the interaction between the men and the relationships they develop. I enjoyed the story, was not expecting a sad ending, and only regre ...more
Dec 27, 2011 Rob rated it really liked it
In this quality novel, Ron Carlson shows the reader how characters and simple human struggles can make a novel. Three men in different strokes of their life work together to build a motorcycle ramp for a jump in Iowa, working through set-backs, talking, and enjoying the silences of the world around them. Each chapter has a burning reality to it, and the characters never lose their believability even for a moment. While not much happens plot wise, this book is proff that it doesn't have to. A goo ...more
Aug 17, 2009 Phair rated it really liked it
Someone told me this book was dreadful (it was the Read Across Rhode Island selection for 2009) so I did not look forward to reading it for our discussion group. I ended up liking it very much. The writing, especially in the descriptions of nature, was very poetic. The central people were NICE and I was happy to meet them. I liked the way we only got to know back-stories of characters in bits and pieces over time the way you find out about people in real life. Friendships earned, respect, honor ...more
Jul 01, 2008 Caroline rated it it was ok
I read all of Five Skies, and I really wanted to like all of it, but mostly I liked none of it. Carlson's short stories are great, but this, his first novel, seems off pace and off focus. I was intrigued by the premise of three sort of "construction dudes" coming into their own and forming some important relationship. Ultimately, though, the writing seems to focus more on endless descriptions of, like, cranes and backhoes. The relationships among the men struck me as inconsequential...maybe I'm ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Juanita rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Review: Five Skies by Ron Carlson.

They claim this is a man 19s book and I have to agree but I would say it 19s a man 19s way of life. The book was slow reading in different areas and no real excitement or surprises until the very end. Some readers (women) after reading this book might say that a man 19s life is boring but for them it 19s a man 19s world. The adventure of three men that the author created was manly enough, the dialogue was fair but needing a little up-lift and the setting was not
May 21, 2015 Nancy added it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 21, 2011 Reda rated it really liked it
A wonderful, spare, elegant book. The three main characters, all male, lend themselves to the understaed prose of this book. Three ages, three crises, but all moving toward a resolution. Even the sadness at the end does not distract from the overall strength and beginnings of hope. I would read another book by this author.
May 11, 2013 Deb rated it it was amazing
This is the first book that I listened to on CD. I do not know if I would have liked it had I read it, but I fell in love with it on CD. I was spellbound, and having lived in Idaho for awhile and being a westerner at heart, I fell in love with the land as well as the characters.
Apr 14, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing
I'm devastated. that it's over and that I read it at all. this one knocked the wind out of me.
Jul 27, 2013 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a lot of emotion in this book for something that is, at least on the surface, about three guys building a ramp in nowhere Idaho. I love the lines too. Quiet, strong, and nothing that isn't needed. I do like me some Ron Carlson.
Apr 07, 2010 Sassacaia rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
I enjoyed my dive into this beautiful world I know so little about... construction, Idaho and three very different men's lives.
Deverius Jones
Jun 09, 2015 Deverius Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Profoundly moving story of three men, each separated by a generation, haunted by past mistakes, who come together in unlikely fashion to build an even more unlikely structure in the middle of absolute nowhere, Idaho. Carlson's writing, and treatment of ostensibly mundane subject matter, is transcendent, though I suppose it reminds a bit of Cormac McCarthy, the idea of the West as a state of mind, something that's still very much untamed for all our efforts. Like McCarthy, his dialogue is honest, ...more
Feb 16, 2011 Kristin rated it it was ok
Five Skies, Ron Carlson, New York, 2007

Five Skies by Ron Carlson is a novel that would have been far more enjoyable as a short story. While the characters are real and believable, other aspects of this story fall flat very quickly, and though the premise of the story is interesting, the drawn-out style of writing makes this book tiresome and plodding. It is evident from the style and background of the writer that he was either unused to this style of writing.

The storyline is simple: three men w
Junkie for the Written Word
5/6/13 - I'm on page 60 and I don't know if I'm going to make it to the end. It's got a limited amount of time to stop being so boring before I stop reading.

5/10/13 - Perhaps my lack of boy parts prohibited my full immersion in this tale... or perhaps it was boring. Either way between waiting for something interesting to happen and the high brow metaphorical prose I just couldn't finish it. And considering it's only a couple hundred pages long that says a lot.

Here's how most of the book sounded
May 28, 2012 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novel
I have been wanting to read one of Ron Carlson's novels for some time, having read his excellent collection of stories, At The Jim Bridger, a few years back. Five Skies, for me, is first and foremost an excellent story, a tightly constructed narrative about three men in the Idaho wilderness who each are coming to terms with the unique guilt of their pasts and attempting to move forward, if possible. Each is recovering, in a way, from a traumatic recent past. Ron Carlson's writing is, of course, ...more
Iowa City Public Library
This is a review I wrote for Library Journal:

Big Arthur Key, ace Hollywood stunt builder, drifts into Idaho, the better to hide from his past. He serves as a mentor to nineteen year old Ronnie Panelli, who’s making transitions from boy to man, from thief to carpenter. Together, they’re hired by Darwin Gallegos, filled with rage at his wife’s recent death in a fluke accident. Their project is to build a ramp for a daredevil’s motorcycle jump across a canyon. None of these men is particularly verb
Bonnie Brody
Feb 22, 2012 Bonnie Brody rated it liked it
This book is definitely a man's book. As a woman I felt lost at times with all the references to machinery, building and construction sites. The primary characters are men and they share a summer together in rural Idaho building a ramp for a stunt jumper.

Darwin Gallegos is the foreman for the job. He serendipitously hires Ronnie Panelli and Arthur Key off the street in Pocatello, Idaho and finds out that Arthur is a great engineer with a history of building sets in Hollywood for major film compa
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Ron Carlson is an American novelist and writer of short stories.

Carlson was born in Logan, Utah, but grew up in Salt Lake City. He earned a masters degree in English from the University of Utah. He then taught at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut where he started his first novel.

He became a professor of English at Arizona State University in 1985, teaching creative writing to undergraduates and
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