A lyrical paean to an unsung…well, not exactly hero, but one of life’s unsung people.
If this book were a country song, it would be by Merle Haggard. Whether British-born Fuller (Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, 2004, etc.) knows from Haggard is a matter of speculation, but what is clear is that she has an unfailing eye for common people caught up in uncommon events. This story of a young Wyomingite named Colton H. Bryant is also that of the oil and gas boom wrought by deregulation in these rapacious years of Bush, “a tragedy before it even starts because there was never a way for anyone to win against all the odds out here.” Alternately bullied and ignored—“Retard” is a slur-cum-nickname that figures often in these pages—Colton did most of the things a young man in the heavily Mormon southwestern corner of the state is supposed to do: ride and rope, fish and hunt, cruise around in pickup trucks. Moreover, like young men in Evanston, Colton “was born with horses and oil in his blood like his father before him and his grandfather before that and maybe his grandfather’s father before that.” Having endured adolescence thanks to a good friend named Jake and a slightly misquoted creed borrowed from television (“Mind over matter”), Colton followed the second birthright to the oil patch, where he quickly found work as a roughneck, an unforgiving job. “They have to keep drilling hour after hour--storm, heat, sleet, ice, sun--no matter what,” writes Fuller. “They’ll slap another beating heart on the rig to take your place if you’re so much as five minutes late.” Diligent and aware of the dangers, but needing to support a wife and baby, he fell into the well, as so many others have, just one of 35 Wyomingites to die on the rigs between 2000 and 2006. The petroleum company, in the meanwhile, boasted record profits—while Colton’s family “received no compensation for his loss.”
A latter-day Silkwood, quiet and understated, beautifully written, speaking volumes about the priorities of the age.