A debut collection of ten interlocking stories about several generations of a ranching family in the foothills of eastern Colorado.
Pritchett, winner of Milkweed’s fiction prize, vividly conveys a world where decency and humanity are challenged repeatedly, and diminished, yet still manage to gain small, significant victories. Renny and Ben are the oldest generation—a couple who, in the title story, are living separate lives in separate places on the ranch, having done so since the murder of their daughter by her husband after she came to them for protection. The two come together during an early season snowfall to help one of their cows trying to birth a stillborn calf, but in spite of their tenderness with each other, their trauma runs too deep for them to reconcile. Daughter Rachel had two children before leaving their father, then hooked up with Ray, a wild man with a violent streak they all learned to be wary of, until in “A New Name Each Day” he snaps, and Rachel flees for home with the kids. Their other daughter, Carolyn, learns in “Summer Flood” that her first love is back in town and takes a day off from her husband and family to find him. After a few beers with him, she realizes that the river of her life might have taken her elsewhere years before, but its currents flow strongly in the life she has now. Her daughter Leanne, in “The Record Keeper,” is recording the weights and vitals of the herd at fall inspection and vaccination. Astute observer that she is, she sees how naturally and lovingly the family, including cousins and grandparents, fit together, and how their closeness matters: When an ornery bull throws her dad over the fence, it’s only a close call, not a catastrophe, which the family easily transcends.
An intimacy and warmth in character and a knowing view of the land are great strengths here: an impressive small-scale study of family dynamics.