A young farmer must grow beyond the difficult, tragic childhood that hardened him.
Ned Fallow survives the hardscrabble years of his youth during the late 1800s to inherit a chance to make it on his own. Leaving behind the unmerciful Texas plains that claimed the lives of his father, uncle and grandfather, he starts his own wheat farm in the more fruitful lands of Kansas. Setting straight to work, Ned quickly impresses the townsfolk of Midland with his skill and dedication, but also his brusque rudeness. While some, like his neighbor Bill Etheridge, try to gently temper the young man, others find him inexcusably arrogant. He particularly antagonizes Pete Lomax, the town bully, and Shorty Swanson, the shifty general-store assistant with a bit of a drinking problem. He also doesn’t make a terribly pleasant first impression on Lily Thomason, the beautiful new schoolteacher. Ned’s only kindred spirits are the two Mexican laborers he employs and who share his tireless appetite for hard work. As the years pass, Ned gradually begins to open up and accept the fact that a farmer’s life is a hard one and that no one gets by alone. He both benefits from the kindness of others during hard times, and offers his assistance when needed in turn. Lily begins to see him in a new light as well. When he faces a trial after his feud with Lomax results in deadly violence, his future is placed in the hands of his neighbors, and he must hope that enough of them won’t turn their backs on him. McKay’s debut is a well-written, well-researched testament to those who plowed the fields in the early years of this country. His characters are lively and sharply drawn, but his protagonist’s hardness as an adult might not have seemed as credible if he hadn’t so effectively depicted the tragically cruel environment Ned grows up in. The author lets the story’s fairly predictable resolution unfold naturally rather than pushing for superfluous melodrama.
A well-tilled field.