Kirkus Star


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Adolescent awakening in the Montana summer of 1939--with spider-web links to people, land, and history, as in the best regional fiction of Mary Lee Settle. John Angus (""Jick"") McCaskill remembers the summer of '39 as the time his family ""made our bend."" Older brother Alec, the brightest and best of everything, announces that he's booting the college education the parents had scrimped for; instead he'll continue to cowherd on the Double W ranch nearby and marry the beautiful Leona. The parents stand firm on their high ground of disapproval. And, like any family break, it's not clean; so Jick will worry it through the summer, wondering about Alec's rebellion--like clothes that might fit him if he tried them on. A strong, dutiful kid, with a growing mastery of the sparse, wry, metaphorically pungent local diction, Jick begins his summer on a sheep-counting trek with forest-ranger father Mac. Then, inexplicably, Mac passes Jick over to Stanley Meixell, a booze-bugling campjack who turns out to have a mysterious past: tho boy nurses wild Stanley along, skins sheep corpses, nearly follows a mean horse in a tumble down the mountain. . . and has his first bender/hangover. Then there's July 4th, ""a set of hours worth the price of a life""--with picnicking people, past/ present anecdotes, mother's stump speech, the ritual danger and nonsense of the rodeo, and the Square Dance. Days of haying--a tactical masterpiece--are followed by the raging forest fire on Flume Gulch, a major engagement with Mac overseeing a crew of 75. (Doig's reconstruction of 1930s fire-fighting--from the roar of a tree ""crowning out"" to dust and char--is a spellbinder.) And throughout Jick ties person to person, enveloping anecdote, plucking at the threads of connection with understanding as fresh as his horseback shadow at dawn: ""drawn out on the prairie grass. . . looming out like some new creature."" Slow to kindle but ultimately memorable: a savory, warming, and finely crafted novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum