A woman of faith is tested when her no-good brother comes home.
You could call this debut novel by acclaimed visual artist Magennis something of a southwestern gothic, drawing inspiration from the spare depictions of the West in the novels of Annie Proulx and its familial drama from the likes of Faulkner, O’Connor, and their ilk. The author sets her novel in the familiar rural community of Alibi Creek, New Mexico, where most of the drama is set on the dry plains, in the town’s bar and liquor stores, or in the cramped confines of trailers. To her credit, Magennis has created a noble hero with believable flaws in devout Lee Ann, who divides her time between running her family’s ranch, working as the county manager, caring for her invalid mother, and praying. She’s remarried to a good-hearted but sternly quiet man, Eugene, but her two sons are from another father. Her troubles are compounded when her ex-convict brother, Walker, emerges from prison, intent on returning to his boozy schemes. “Walker rushes through life at a pace I can never match, driven by impulses I don’t understand….Eugene insists I set limits but You’ve created Walker untamable, uncontrollable, unteachable,” Lee Ann says, turning her troubles to the heavens. “I pray for him, for all things are solved through prayer. I try to forgive, as You Advise.” As a mystery, there’s not much entertainment to be had; Walker hooks up with his ex-wife to conspire over a land grab but the intrigue is largely secondary to Lee Ann’s story. Where the novel excels is in its open-eyed portrayals of a land largely left untamed and the spirit of a woman who may bow in the face of her tribulations but remains steadfast in her devotion to God and family.
What might have been a soapy rural drama carries a surprising amount of grit and poetic verve.