Eli Singer is a renowned poet whose artistic sensibilities are like "[Wendell] Berry meets Bukowski," but his elegant verse is crafted by a haunted man.
Remote eastern Montana is a place where the wind, cold, and isolation break men and drive women mad, and so it was for 12-year-old Eli’s mother. First a housekeeper for Buddy Singer, bachelor rancher, and then his wife, she struggled with loneliness, boredom, and her failure as a parent. Eli and his 14-year-old sister, Emma, took their stepfather's name, but soon Emma ran away to share the bed of a neighboring rancher three times her age. There was a scandal, then two people died. Decades later, only Eli knows the true story, which comes in flashbacks that expand the scope and deepen the resonance of this tale, one of love and family set against a rugged Old West ethos. It begins after middle-aged Eli is pulled from his isolation by Chloe Barnes. Eli makes a rare trip to New York City to meet with his publisher, and while there, he is introduced to Chloe, a literary agent. The attraction is mutual and magnetic. First, it’s all telephone calls, but then Chloe flies to Montana, and two damaged souls stumble toward connection. Soon, though, the love story is framed by a clash of morality. A thunderstorm exposes a hidden grave; a murdered man surfaces, the corpse suspiciously secreted on Eli’s land inherited from Buddy. Both Eli and Chloe are thoroughly human, flawed people yet sympathetic protagonists. Chloe seeks a hero, a protector, stability. Eli is guilt-ridden, closed off, gut-wrenchingly lonely. With broad strokes painting an eastern Montana landscape and flashes of insight about the people who cling to its land, Jones rides past the softer romances of Nicholas Sparks into the hard country populated by the best of Western writers.
Jones (Last Year’s River, 2001, etc.) has written a most American of novels, bristling with hard truths.