Men are more trouble than the land for the three women working a ranch.
It’s four thousand acres in South Dakota, mostly corn and alfalfa, with a sinkhole that interests archaeologists; maintenance (cutting, irrigating, fence-building) is a major theme. Former sculptor Haney Remmel and his sharp-tongued wife Mattie have been working the ranch for 15 years as their marriage slowly ossifies. When Haney dies in an accident, Mattie has to hustle, hiring a mechanic, the strikingly beautiful Dawn, and a 14-year-old runaway Indian boy. Daughter Shelley returns from college to help out, and Dawn, for all her New Age flakiness, is a whiz with machines. The four manage okay. Then the first of two time-bombs explodes. Going through some old letters, Mattie discovers that Haney had gay lovers. So he was a liar and a cheat. Mattie is devastated. Shelley is equally upset, hurling his sculptures into a ravine, dumping her slob of a boyfriend and “sportfucking” a local stud. But it’s Dawn’s past that almost puts them out of business. On breaking up with her last boyfriend, a con man called Styver, she stole his car, and now he appears out of the blue, breaking Mattie’s jaw and about to kill Dawn, except that Elton (the Indian boy) shoots him dead first, then vanishes. Mattie, acting like a surrogate mother, tracks him down in Wyoming, where he needs eye surgery after a vicious attack by his alcoholic father. Still, not to worry: Elton returns to the nest, Shelley finds a fabulous lover in her old English teacher, and Dawn hooks up with their upstanding Mexican neighbor Hector. As for Mattie, thanks to that old standby “healing,” she puts Haney behind her and opens up to archaeologist Lee, the obvious Mr. Right all along.
Goodhearted if directionless ramble over land charted meticulously—and through emotional terrain where Nelson (Toward the Sun, 1998, etc.) is much less sure-footed.