Books by James Galvin

FENCING THE SKY by James Galvin
Released: Oct. 7, 1999

A first novel from poet/nonfiction writer Galvin (The Meadow, 1992, etc.) about the ongoing destruction of western rangelands and the decline of the old, land-centered way of life. Mike Arans, a self-reliant cattleman, finds Meriweather Snipes, a canny, repellent land speculator and developer, stampeding cattle that have strayed onto the developer's land and, in a fit of anger, chases him. It's hard to say if what happens next is murder or an accident, but Mike, fearing the worst, takes his favorite horse and rides off into the remaining wilderness areas of Wyoming. His good friend Oscar, a bright, stubborn, struggling cattleman like Mike, does what he can to help Mike in his attempts to elude the law, and Galvin shuttles back and forth between Mike's cross-country flight and the history of the high plains over the past several decades as seen through Mike and Oscar's subsequent—and wrenching—attempts to make a go of cattle-raising. The economy has worked both to bankrupt small cattlemen and inspire a new and devastating land rush. The "land pimps" (Galvin's phrase for developers) buy up large swaths of land from exhausted ranchers and turn it into small parcels to be peddled to ignorant romantics looking for a chance to live out their glossy vision of the West. But without the ranchers to maintain drainage, the little water available evaporates, trees die, and soil blows away. The new settlers resent the old ones, with their cattle and the fences vital to managing the range, and violence follows. Galvin works in this sorry history of the modern West skillfully, without slowing or diluting the drama of his story. His evocation of the hard specifics of ranching life and the satisfactions of physical labor, and the lyrical precision of his portrait of the western plains, are distinctive and deeply moving. Part celebration and part angry lament, Fencing the Sky is a memorable debut, the most ambitious and original novel about the modern West to have appeared in some time. Read full book review >
THE MEADOW by James Galvin
Released: April 30, 1992

A passionate hundred-year history of a small mountain ranch on the Colorado-Wyoming border. Galvin (Writing/Univ. of Iowa) was raised and still lives for part of each year in Tie Siding, Wyoming. Here, he tells of the lives of his neighbors and of the successive owners of a ranch consisting in the main of a 360-acre hay meadow. Galvin's annals are comprised of one hundred very brief vignettes, remarkable for their sympathetic portrayals of these men and women and their Antaeus-like symbiosis with the beautiful but unforgiving land. Cutting back and forth in time, the author tells of Appleton (``App'') Worster, who homesteaded the meadow in 1895, raising three boys but losing two wives and finally the farm itself in 1938. App was buried on a ridge where his sons had to use drills and dynamite to dig his grave. Galvin also writes of App's son Ray, who, while logging at age 12 with his brothers and father, saw a man fishing and was struck dumb by astonishment—it was the first time Ray had ever seen someone he didn't know. And then there's the meadow's present owner, Lyle, slowly drowning in emphysema and condemned to sitting by himself and gazing at the log buildings he made by hand and at the meadow where he cut timothy grass for 40 years. Galvin's montage engages through its multiple views, but just as often it perplexes: The funeral of a man is described, but then the man reappears and dies only later in the book; and the relationships between some of the principal characters prove a formidable puzzle, at least at first. Still, Galvin's progressive deepening and widening of his story, and his comely prose, more than compensate. Close-ups of seldom-seen bedrock people of the American West, adroitly drawn and deeply felt. Read full book review >