In Stalcup’s debut novel, an aging, disgraced New York trader starts over as a ranch owner in rural Texas.
Once a successful Wall Street investor, Jack Stiler suspiciously lost his job while tending to his dying wife as she battled cancer. After her death, Jack had little choice but to return to the Lucky Star––the family ranch he inherited from his parents––located south of San Antonio, near the Mexican border. Though at first reluctant about the dramatic change, 64-year-old Jack has settled into a new identity as a kindhearted employer and local luminary who uses his investing skills to help fund the ranch amid a landmark drought. But the recent dry spell is perhaps the least of Jack’s concerns. A local pipeline company offers him one underhanded deal after another to buy part of his land, and the property is a gateway for violent drug smugglers in search of an easier life in America. Making matters worse, Jack grows increasingly lonely as he watches his family fall apart. One of his sons is comatose after a violent rampage and suicide attempt; his daughter, of whose lesbian lifestyle he disapproves, rarely speaks to him; and his other son, Jackson, struggles through a complicated divorce that threatens Jack’s relationship with his 11-year-old granddaughter, Sadie Mae, the one person he believes can redeem his family’s future—that is, if she’ll ever get off her smartphone. Jack’s misfortunes intensify, calcifying into a surprisingly enthralling, if at times overwhelming, account of one unlucky guy. So much happens to poor Jack in the first 60 pages that it’s sometimes difficult to juggle all the subplots––or identify the primary storyline––which raises questions about an older man’s ability to handle it all. In a few days’ time, Jack aids a snakebitten Mexican woman, tends to a dying Asian immigrant, helps rescue cowboys from drug-smuggling kidnappers and, the following morning, spends half a day fighting a brush fire with blankets, just before discovering the town sheriff’s charred corpse. But such a complaint is nearly inconsequential in light of the constant thrills that keep the pages turning. And that’s saying nothing of Stalcup’s deep-seated empathy, convincing dialogue and metered prose that evoke the work of Kent Haruf and Pete Dexter.
An ambitious, sincere novel that weighs the meaning of family and success.