ON THE NIGHT PLAIN by J. Robert Lennon


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A gripping contemporary equivalent of O.E. Rolvaag’s sagas of hard luck on the Great Plains.

Grant Person leaves home shortly after WWII, hoping to escape the guilt he feels about the dead brother who went to war in his place. He works for a time in Atlantic City and then at sea before returning to what is left of his family’s woebegone Montana ranch. His father has vanished; his mother is dead; his brother Max stays long enough to tell Grant he’s leaving, then goes off to New York to paint. Grant finds himself alone with a few hundred head of sheep and some doleful hired hands. Using the money saved from his time at sea, he pays the accumulated debts and tries to make a go of it. Lennon (The Light of the Falling Stars, 1997) beautifully describes the despair his characters feel at their nearly hopeless enterprise, and he renders the boredom of life on the ranch in prose that is both realistic and lyrical. Eventually, Max returns with a girl named Sophia, and they set up housekeeping with Grant. In time, tensions emerge as Grant and Sophia fall tentatively in love. Lennon skillfully integrates these interpersonal conflicts with the protagonists’ larger problem of trying to make the ranch work as a business that will support them all. Sheep get lost and die; the brothers fight, go their separate ways, and then come together in a final trip that ends in a gruesome drowning. The author works hard at his characters, but can’t completely solve the problem of making these inarticulate people plausibly reveal themselves. Nonetheless, few will be unmoved by the sere ending, which finds Grant, aged and alone, the self-appointed curator of his brother’s artistic estate.

Not wholly successful, but, still, a significant achievement and a worthy addition to the growing body of contemporary western literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 2001
ISBN: 0-8050-6722-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2001


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