BEN by Max Schott


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Second-novelist Schott (Murphy's Romance, 1980; a story collection, Up Where I Used to Live, 1978) returns to horse-country with this affectionate coming-of, age story--all about a horse-trainer whose woman has left him and a young man whose mother has died. After Ben's young wife, Audrey, leaves him for the rodeo, Ben meets Max and Max's family: his mother Kate, a heartbreaking invalid near death, and his father Myron, who's coping with the help of Aunt Anna (a lawyer). Meanwhile, Schott's unsentimental style depends largely on long takes--living-rom talk, expressions of love and tenderness, an underplayed tension. Slowly and expertly, then, the relationships develop: Ben invites the family to his ranch house once the restless Audrey returns; Kate dies; Audrey leaves again; and Max becomes a sort of apprentice to the rancher. The landscape and horse lore have an authentic feel, but Max is more an apprentice of the heart than of ranching. He goes with Ben to see Audrey, who now has a donkey act. She rejects him, and he ""sinks further into himself."" In the meantime, Max's father marries Aunt Anna, and Max, of course, must face his mixed emotions. All the early jawboning gives way to incremental movement: Ben becomes an alcoholic and finally gives up his ranch for a stables business; Max begins to understand that his father has not had an easy time of it, what with cancer killing his wife and the subsequent irresolution before marrying his wife's sister; and, in a quiet but climactic scene, the two of them finally come to accept Kate's death--as well as each other. Minimalism at its best: it avoids the freeze-frame hug and sacrifices neither landscape nor the larger world in its understated pursuit of inner significance.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1990
Publisher: North Point