BONE FIRE by Mark Spragg


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Spragg (An Unfinished Life, 2004, etc.) never ventures quite far enough from standard mythopoeia in this contemporary Western set in Wyoming.

Crane Carlson, the stoic, rough-hewn sheriff of tiny Ishawooa, finds a murdered teen in the ruins of a meth lab. Crane is coming to grips with his own disastrously failing health, and after he gets the grim diagnosis he’s been avoiding, he tries to rekindle things with his long-gone and now remarried ex. Meanwhile his current wife, a brittle, truculent drunk, lashes out at him for straying and tries, in a poignantly public, desperate way, to trade on her fading erotic charms. Her daughter Griff, who’s left college and the urban East to come back home and sing paeans to the range in the form of imposing outdoor sculptures made from clay and animal skeletons, is living with octogenarian grandfather Einar. This gritty rancher, in failing health, doesn’t want Griff saddled with responsibility for him. So that she can pursue some combination of her studies, her art and her boyfriend Paul, a grad student who’s about to leave to volunteer in Uganda, Einar summons back his estranged lesbian sister, who’s just watched her true love sicken and die. Perhaps the most compelling character, though another archetype, is the noble innocent Kenneth, a ten-year-old whose mother, Paul’s sister, has essentially abandoned him so she can rove and hawk her New Age nostrums. Kenneth, who can abide no life but a simple one, is lovingly attended by stalwart rancher Barnum McEban, and the scenes between them, albeit familiar in tone and content, have great tenderness. But the plot never coalesces, though several characters are well-drawn, and at the end Spragg strains to braid together the disparate strands.

Sometimes subtle and affecting, but there’s too little about the characters and too much about the noble landscapes and mindscapes of the vanishing West.

Pub Date: March 11th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-27275-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2009


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