An old hand falls for his young business partner in this fiction debut.
Theophilous “Theo” MacBain is a well-known stonemason. He’s pushing 60 and has a solid career reputation, though his status as a family man is less impressive. His business partner, Hanson “Hannie” Blair, a knockout, also happens to be a talented mason (she “picked up on the right way to do stone from the start,” Theo recalls). She’s a young, beautiful, and vigorous woman who unfortunately has a history of picking disastrous men. Despite a substantial age difference, Theo and Hannie find themselves sharing a mutual attraction that is only reinforced when he saves her life. He represents integrity, honesty, stability, and strength, while Hannie embodies a dream for him, a second chance at love and a family (“Hell, I could still give her kids,” Theo muses. “She’d want kids. I guessed”). The couple work their way toward a relationship, though their May-December age difference remains a constant undercurrent. Hannie’s past choices also continue to haunt them; she seems unable to fully break free from her self-destructive tendencies. Throughout their ups and downs, Theo relies on the support of Beth Hennessey, another independent woman who could have been more in other circumstances. Will Theo and Hannie ultimately find happiness? The novel is a true character study. McRaven (The Classic Hewn-Log House, 2014, etc.) builds a compelling narrative around an unlikely hero: an aging, reticent stonemason whose rough exterior hides a sharp intellect and reflective nature. Theo and Hannie’s relationship is satisfyingly nuanced, as the author probes the issues that hide beneath the surface tensions created by long days at work or jealousy. Theo’s steady friendship with Beth, which reappears throughout the tale, effectively counterbalances an otherwise complex love life. The evocative descriptions of days spent outdoors under wide-open Western skies, fly-fishing or riding horses, are reminiscent of the work of Norman Maclean or Jim Harrison. And McRaven’s extensive experience as a stonemason comes in handy as he describes laying “a double wall for free-standing work, usually with a taper, or rake, in at the top” or putting in a “through-stone, or tie-stone to keep the two halves together.” Thankfully, the observations on stonework stay limited enough to be intriguing rather than repetitive.
A complicated, engrossing love story that focuses on two gifted stonemasons.