A debut novel in stories follows the rise of a Western town through the men and women who build it.
In a remote Montana valley, a community takes shape beneath a snowy crag called Crazy Mountain. A real estate agent seizes an opportunity to buy a massive ranch on the cheap, but flipping it turns out to be a bigger challenge than he bargained for. A wealthy couple from Los Angeles, still mourning the murder of their son, eventually buy the property, but their desire for uninterrupted nature is ruined by the trespasses of their “yokel” neighbors. A divorced man from Missouri uses his last bit of money to start a trailer park, but when he breaks ground on a convenience store to serve his residents, he’s unhappy to find what seems to be an Indigenous burial site. An older woman waits for her husband to die on their remote, snowed-in ranch, knowing she will have to dispose of the body on her own: “It took two weeks for Frank to finish dying.…After he took his last breath and there was nothing left but the body, she undressed him and wrapped him in a cotton sheet, trying not to focus on the miles of empty space surrounding her now that Frank was gone.” Across 15 stories that span from 1970 to 2015, Atchison relates the history of the valley as it develops from a lonesome ranch into a wildfire-threatened exurb. The author’s observant eye for nature makes her an especially adept chronicler of its decline: “Juniper tapped her brakes…when she saw the massive Aspen Springs Subdivision cluttering the sagebrush foothills where the elk used to graze in the bunchgrass all winter long. The hillsides had been taken over by cheatgrass and knapweed and the mountain slopes were stained with the rusty-brown hue of beetle-killed trees.” Each tale takes on a new character’s perspective, leaving the valley itself to serve as the book’s true protagonist. The result is a story collection with a novelistic sweep, capturing what is lost and what is gained in the development of the mountainous West.
An elegant, eco-minded collection of tales set in a Montana valley.