A quietly haunting first novel set in a small ranching town, by the author of Any Small Thing Can Save You (stories: 2001).
Lenna Swanson brings her 14-year-old son Kenny to the unnamed Idaho town after an ugly divorce leaves her penniless. Kenny still adores his father, an Air Force pilot whose visit to take the boy hunting is heartbreaking, as is Kenny’s bittersweet preadolescent loyalty to Lenna. All the kid wants to do is rodeo, but he’s promised he won’t risk riding injuries until his mother’s new job insurance kicks in. Kenny feels lonely, especially after his father dies in a plane crash, and so does Lenna. Soon she finds herself involved with Roddy Moyers, a local rodeo cowboy idolized by Kenny as well as almost everyone else in town. Roddy, who has the kind of easy charisma that lets him get away with anything (too easily for his own good), is also seeing Cynthia Dustin, a senior with musical talent who dreams of escaping her brutal father Earl and has secretly applied for a college scholarship. On Christmas Eve, Cynthia runs into Lenna and Roddy together at the local tavern while Kenny, alone at home, discovers a box of his father’s mementos that sends him over the edge of despair. Roddy leaves town and his messy love life to rejoin the rodeo circuit. Kenny and Cynthia become friends and go to the vacant ranch Roddy’s wealthy parents own so Cynthia can play the baby grand. There, they fall asleep and are discovered; Earl assumes the worst even though nothing untoward has happened. Relationships unravel and re-knit. Cynthia leaves town for good; Roddy and the Swansons remain, facing their future with ambiguous optimism. The strength here lies less in plot details, although the author nimbly handles connections, than in the power of her language and reticent yet fully realized characters.
A classic novel of the West, written with quiet muscle and confidence.