A rugged ranch hand shakes up life in a quiet Montana town in this novel.
Lance Turbyfill is a 51-year-old outdoorsman hoping to make a new start—things have gone south in Winnemucca, Nevada, where he lived with a disabled, surly friend and his beautiful wife. He takes a job at the Oliver Ranch in Rusty Springs, Montana, where Joy Ann Oliver and her friends (especially Stormy Smith, a single woman desperate to find a man) impatiently await his arrival. Slowly, Lance begins to settle into his new life—he explores the wild hills around the ranch; treats one of his visiting paramours, a glamorous woman named Ferris, to dancing and a buffet; and briefly gets involved with Stormy. Meanwhile, Joy Ann’s husband, Larry, catches wind that the troublemaking Hicks family has returned to Rusty Springs and he grows vengeful; the clan once planted a bomb in the Olivers’ mailbox. Lance leaves for something called The Gathering, where he reunites with his Nevada friends and becomes smitten with a woman named Alexis, who helps him work through his lingering Vietnam War trauma. He brings Alexis back to the ranch, but she soon tells him she must leave. Then a record-setting heat wave rolls through the area, sparking massive wildfires that throw the whole town into crisis and set off a chain of events that mobilize Lance, the Olivers, and all their friends to protect their town from the conflagration and the nefarious Hicks family. Bender (Lebensborn Secrets, 2017, etc.) tells this tale with an appealing folksiness and shows an especially deft hand for simile: a building in the story “had so many additions that it looked like a mother duck folding her wings over a flock of rambling ducklings.” But the plot is scattered and uneven. Some of the narrative threads, including one involving a red-haired woman who abandons a mountain cabin, lead nowhere; the Gathering that Lance goes to, whose purpose is “to foster worldwide peace, cooperation, and spiritual healing,” is a bewildering digression. And while kidnappings, near-death experiences, and the mighty, destructive forces of nature befall the protagonists, they resolve these problems without any real struggle or dramatic tension.
A meandering cowboy tale.