HIGH PLAINS TANGO by Robert James Waller


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Waller (Puerto Vallarta Squeeze, 1995, etc.) brings schmaltz to another plane with this tale of a small prairie town threatened by evil highway developers.

One of the few surprises here is that the setting—the tiny burg of Salamander, S.D.—is far from idealized. Instead of the expected portrait of hardy Midwestern folk fighting tough times and bad weather with heartland pluck, we get a caustic handful of farmers griping about big government while pocketing their subsidy checks and watching their town dry up and start to blow away. Into this landscape of no expectations comes Carlisle McMillan, a bookish California carpenter with a vaguely hippy air and looks that set the womenfolk’s hearts aflutter. With his hardscrabble, educated idealism and rough-hewn good looks, he’s like Jesus with a libido. Carlisle buys a rundown shack on the outskirts of town and sets about renovating it, which provides the bulk of the drama for about the first half of the story. Sadly, that’s much more interesting than the melodramatic complications that follow. Once Carlisle finishes his shack—filled with gorgeous little handcrafted objets d’art, as well as not one but eventually two nubile local women, wouldn’t you know—he has the luck to find a rare species of hawk living nearby. The hawks become an issue once the government decides to run a six-lane highway right through his land. The townspeople, worried that Carlisle and his endangered birds are going to stall the highway (which they’ve been hoodwinked into thinking is an economic necessity), launch a campaign of intimidation, which proves far less interesting than the mundane details of how he fixed it up his house. Swinging from renovation chic to antidevelopment polemic, Waller stops along the way for some hackneyed business about an Indian sacred site nearby.

About half a book, and pretty thin at that.

Pub Date: June 28th, 2005
ISBN: 0-307-20994-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2005


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