Books by Dan O’Brien

WILD IDEA by Dan O’Brien
Released: Sept. 1, 2014

"There may be plenty of disappointments out on the Plains, but this book is not one of them."
South Dakota novelist and memoirist O'Brien (The Indian Agent, 2004, etc.) delivers a bracing portrait of the pleasures—and considerable pains—of ranch life on the lone prairie. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

"A capable western in the vein of McMurtry, not L'Amour. Well suited to those who like their historical fiction more historical than fictitious."
Restless Indians meet hard-bitten pioneers, bluecoats, and bureaucrats. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 18, 2001

"But as a chronicle of life in a lonely and difficult place, O'Brien's story is timeless—and entirely welcome."
A literate memoir from out where the buffalo roam. Read full book review >
Released: March 10, 1997

Facing his own autumnal milestone, a 50-year-old novelist takes time to pursue a lifelong dream: ``to spend three months focused entirely on trying to do falconry right.'' O'Brien (In the Center of the Nation, 1991, etc.) has hunted with falcons since boyhood, when he tamed his first hawk and cobbled together a backyard mews from packing crates. He is now the owner of a ranch near the Black Hills, where he tenuously maintains a life focused on writing and hunting, and where he has better than a thousand acres of South Dakota prairie to work with. In a bid to come to grips with a midlife crisis, and to strengthen his attachment to his life on the land—and to the animals that share it with him—he indulges his falconry passion full-time for a season. Acquiring three fledgling peregrines (one of which develops into the best bird he has ever flown), O'Brien sets about teaching them to hunt sharptailed grouse. The step-by-step account of that delicate process is an eye-opening chronicle of interspecies cooperation and a gripping dramatization of how hard-won is the ideal balance between tameness and wildness that makes falconry possible. Myriad complications ensue—most notably the interference of a renegade Cooper's hawk, which threatens to scare off the falcons until tamed and added to the group. O'Brien counterbalances this narrative by tracing his development as an outdoorsman, eschewing easy sentimentality while forcefully reaffirming his love for nature and for his independent lifestyle. Particularly interesting is the story of how he introduced his wife, Kris (now an avid sportswoman), to hunting. Though O'Brien generally minimizes the Iron John angst, Kris's reasonableness is a welcome foil to his middle-aged craziness, which she reckons, rightly, to be a ``male thing.'' A ``why-do'' book that nevertheless offers plenty of how-to insight for falconry aficionados and newcomers alike—a beautifully wrought, demystifying look at the sport of hunting with hawks. Read full book review >
Released: May 6, 1996

South Dakota biologist O'Brien (The Spirit of the Hills, 1988, etc.) continues to write well about what he knows best—the places and people of the Black Hills—but still struggles to surmount the melodramatic clichÇs that have plagued his fiction. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Margaret Adamson comes to the Black Hills to give final approval to a proposal to build condominiums on the hitherto unspoiled Brendan Prairie, only to watch in horror as a runaway earthmover plows down and kills the developer—a suspicious death that complicates matters professionally and personally as Margaret stays for the ensuing investigation and in the process renews contact with old flame Bill Malone. Malone, a dynamic wildlife enthusiast and highly regarded trainer of falcons when Margaret knew him 20 years earlier, has become a limping, subdued college professor and single parent, but his passion for the wilderness still comes through in his opposition to the Prairie's development. The old Bill reemerges when a wounded falcon is brought to him and he decides to save rather than euthanize it, thanks to the urging of daughter Allison and their gentle-giant friend Cooney. Meanwhile, the old attraction between Bill and Margaret is rekindled as well. She learns the painful truth about Allison's mother and the secret behind Bill's limp, so that when suspicion that he might have tampered with the deadly 'dozer finally surfaces, she's ready to fight for him. But others are too: Cooney confesses before Bill can be charged; then, when it becomes apparent that the real culprit, Allison, is about to come clean, Cooney makes the ultimate sacrifice, hanging himself in his cell—leaving the survivors resolved to make something more of their lives. This tale's first-rate location details and good intentions, unfortunately, aren't enough to overcome an uneven plot burdened by schmaltz, too many particulars on falcon-training, and serious problems too readily overcome. Read full book review >
Released: June 17, 1991

Second-novelist O'Brien (The Spirit of the Hills, 1988) offers a high plains melodrama in which finely seen landscape—plus the interaction of character with place—more than makes up for some programmatic plotting. Larry Sorensen, bank president in Harney, South Dakota, is approached by a mining company that discovers gold near the Badlands. Sorensen moves to buy up the four ranches—one owned by Cleve Miller, who, repulsed by the modern, greedy world, has developed a conspiracy theory involving Zionism. The story then fills us in on the lives of the other three ranchers: Ross Brady, in his mid-30s, who deserted the Vietnam-era Army and came to South Dakota for ``the bigness, the stark beauty,'' even though his Jewish wife Linda left him for California. (Brother-in-law Stewart, however, the wild card in the deck, is still around.) Elizabeth Janis, of Dakota lineage, has inherited another ranch from its former owner, now paralyzed; she and Stewart get it on, and Stewart raises Cleve's ire by paying off Janis's mortgage. Tuffy Martinez, the fourth rancher, leases out his land and spends most of his time drunk. Author O'Brien treats us to nicely textured instances of brandings, blizzards, and ranching ups and downs before letting Cleve finish off the plot. Cleve watches Tippy die after an accident, then beats up Stewart and kidnaps him. Sorensen grapples with Cleve, who shoots him, whereupon Ross blows Cleve away. For the most part, then, things work out for the best, with the land being the novel's real protagonist. O'Brien once again goes for the jugular with too much violence, but his love of the land, along with his intimate knowledge of it, makes for a book that belongs on the shelf of every fan of serious western literature. Read full book review >