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One bad night wreaks irrevocable havoc on the life of a damaged Vietnam vet.

Hart’s evocative debut traces the long descent of a tragic Western figure straight out of a Sam Shepard play. In the bleak first chapter we meet a ruined man scarred by the death of a childhood friend and the wages of war. Bandy Dorner’s wife Iona has just run off with another man; his only refuge, a cobbled-together cabin in Lake Fork, Idaho, has burned to the ground. Drunk, he crashes his truck and shoots the belligerent young cop on the scene. Nearly 20 years later, Bandy gets a visit in prison from Tracy, the 18-year-old son he never knew, who professes a desire to rebuild the cabin in Lake Fork. The determined Tracy gets help from kindly Wilhelm Guntly and, more reluctantly, from his recently returned mother, a woman so bitter she tells her dying second husband, “Bullets are cheap.” It’s this fractured family to which Bandy returns when he’s released soon after. Lord knows he tries, tolerating Iona while doing his best to care for Tracy when the youth is badly injured in a fall from a roof. Hart’s stark talent comes to the surface in these quiet moments between the two men: “You’re a good kid. You deserve better than me,” Bandy tells Tracy, who responds simply, “You’re what I got.” Desiccated descriptions of a long-fallow landscape and the author’s ability to conjure up the ghosts of a low man’s past further enrich this heartbreaking, convincing drama.

A haunting Western tale about one man’s inescapable sorrow.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60819-014-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2009