Hepner debuts with a deeply moving and intellectually profound novel built on the iconic myth of the American West.
Think McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show or Horseman, Pass By. Hepner’s tale is set in the sparsely populated land north of the Great Salt Lake, where the descendants of Mormon pioneers now cultivate the land along a river, in their blood a consciousness of "the wildness of the desert.” The nearest town, "a passing-over place," is derelict but for a liquor store and co-op. Jack Selvedge, 21, parents dead a decade, works his grandfather’s acreage milking a hard living from 100 dairy cows. Jack’s uncle, fragile, often ill, helps only a bit. Jack expects to inherit half the land, but his grandfather betrays that implicit promise. Jack’s life grows more complicated when "beautiful…untouchable" Rebekah Rainsford and her mother return, fleeing an abusive father. Comprehending "how tenuous a thing was farming in the desert" and dealing with off-farm opportunities to set out on his own, Jack strides the pages, his unquenchable passion for damaged, fragile Rebekah burning, but he remains rooted in the land, understanding that farming is "the only true salvation he’d ever known." Bitter over his grandfather’s duplicity, Jack’s love for Rebekah fractures his hardened heart and touches his soul. Other characters—Blair, the widowed, flint-hard grandfather; Seth, a teen seeking the danger of rodeo bull-riding to escape; and especially Jack’s best friend, Heber, "a failed promise, a talented squanderer"—range through the narrative with impeccable authenticity. After a second, shattering betrayal, Jack leaves the farm to wander the high desert in a spiritual odyssey. Hepner draws a narrative exploring the existential angst smoldering in the rural West as family farmers who hold stewardship of the land confront social and economic conditions beyond their control.
A bravura debut.