Against expectations, I read this book as rapidly as I could, following its inevitable word cadences, complex and exquisitely honed. On nearly every p...moreAgainst expectations, I read this book as rapidly as I could, following its inevitable word cadences, complex and exquisitely honed. On nearly every page I wanted to rush forward, but the structure and evolution of each crafted sentence kept me from it and taught me a reader's patience. In this way it is close to the first book of Cormac McCarthy's brilliant trilogy, so strong and compulsive. But in its own way, this book is more furious, darkened and storm-driven by a human hardness even McCarthy does not touch. As I read to the end early this morning, I recognized that it is Faulkner whose power is echoed in the prose, in the fabric of guilt and cruelty, and the inner chasms created by blood relationships. And so I was lost to it: if Faulkner had written about west Texas, he might have written this. Even taken up a second time, this book would run like a stallion, and I would struggle to hang on.
From page 271: "Fire was one of so many things that could render a man helpless, and now, as Karel reached the corral fence and circled around to the gate, his brothers' eyes unblinking and tepid and fixed on him, he reckoned that family was another. A man couldn't any more choose which one he was born into than he could will it to stay together when so many things abraded and raveled the fibers that were meant to keep it bound. Try to hold it all together with force, with a harness and a hard hand the way their father had, and it grew so thick with the cordage of resentment that you couldn't even get your hands around it." (less)
Our primary impulse to read may be to enter another life, or to see another place through other eyes. Not to imagine it, but to see it. We abandon wha...moreOur primary impulse to read may be to enter another life, or to see another place through other eyes. Not to imagine it, but to see it. We abandon whatever or wherever we are and become a spirit, able to occupy a writer's strands of mind, thought, memory. In my experience, there are few, if any, writers whose written life I would more want to occupy my own thoughts than Mark Spragg. On the book cover, Terry Tempest Williams says it is "blood writing, every sentence alive," and I agree. We tend to mis-read the memoir as a form, ascribing its form to autobiography or memory, when in fact it is about becoming someone separate from others, experiencing enduring but invisible changes. It's not about the time or the place (although here Wyoming is magnetic to me, and the brutish elements seem to have identities of their own), but rather about the situation of a life found in and bound to that time and place. The person within this life has no choice except to be there and to live up to what is required and what is meant by the flawed human relationships within reach, including the relationship with himself. Such books are not about growing up but about growing through. Here it is growing through grasses, horses, cowhands, bears, winds, and snakes, but as I list them they are too specific, not subtle, nor really accurate. Always, in this writing, the wind (for example) is about the person who stands within it or near enough to hear it, or acute and perceptive enough to feel it within himself -- because it is always within himself. For a reader who understands how much he has missed, one who particularly missed the kind of living and breathing Mark Spragg tells here, the experience of reading is, as I say, becoming a spirit.(less)
Of the dozen or two best novels I have read, two are by John Williams. The first is Stoner, an "academic" novel, and this is the second. It also fits...moreOf the dozen or two best novels I have read, two are by John Williams. The first is Stoner, an "academic" novel, and this is the second. It also fits on a shelf of best novels that happen to be westerns, along with the Men in Buckskin Tales by Frederick Manfred, the Cormac McCarthy trilogy, and McMurtry's work in the Lonesome Dove series. (There are not many more on that shelf, even when I put all my best novels on it.)
This novel is about the lost time of a fresh America, full of challenging unknowns in the distance, a landscape without end or solace, fragile animals waiting for brutish men, and the smallness of human aspirations on the plains and in the mountains. It is also about a young man who seeks himself there, testing the possibilities of his life, learning what he had not expected to learn, and moving forward toward understanding what he has done. It's a mature, brutal, and uncompromising work.
Michelle Latiolais, who writes the introduction here, notes that Williams wrote three novels, each in a different genre, and each a work that transcends the limits of its category. Now, on to Augustus, the third of his books, a history.(less)
This is a good a series as I have read, with a character clearly at the center of things and yet unrevealed in full. Longmire is an excellent protagon...moreThis is a good a series as I have read, with a character clearly at the center of things and yet unrevealed in full. Longmire is an excellent protagonist, like the early Spenser. But I could not, in fact, follow all the relationships here, among generations and families and gas rights and murders. But ultimately it was less important to sort out the justice than it was to arrive at a fitting outcome and a continuing invitation to read on. (less)
This novel is part of a series, recently followed by Bone Fire. The continuities and connections between them are lovely, and several of the character...moreThis novel is part of a series, recently followed by Bone Fire. The continuities and connections between them are lovely, and several of the characters are engaging to the point of wanting to know more about them outside the novels. Spragg acknowledges Haruf in his prefaces, and the links are very clear. I have owned a memoir, Where Rivers Change Direction, for years. Now I will read it, and I have ordered a fourth Spragg book. But I am also moved to read Ivan Doig's series, and J. Robert Lennon's On the Night Plain, in hopes of returning to the spaces and people I found in these books.(less)