An emotionally bleak novel by noted short-story writer Carlson (A Kind of Flying, 2003, etc.) develops a strong, touching bond among three male workers on an isolated building crew in the Idaho mountains.
Three men of very different backgrounds end up working closely over a period of two months on a stunt-ramp construction project out in the wilds of the West: Darwin Gallegos, a widower and 40-year foreman at the Rio Difficulto ranch, is the project manager, who decides perhaps too impetuously to hire two laborers loitering in Pocatello, Idaho, and bring them west to the canyon river site outside the ranch. Arthur Key is hugely built, has considerable experience constructing movie sets in L.A. and is fleeing trouble back in California; his brother, Gary, a film stuntman, has been recently killed in an accident, leaving Key full of guilt for the affair he was conducting with Gary’s wife and eager to take on any work that allows him to forget the tragedy. Ronnie Panelli is a hapless 19-year-old fresh out of juvenile jail for stealing cars, a former golf caddy who knows little about construction or roughing it and is constantly getting hurt. Gradually, the men warm to the rigors of the work and each finds his specialty—Darwin is the chef, Ronnie the carpenter and Arthur the canny figurer of plans. Ronnie’s troubles include being punctured in the shoulder with a long splinter while they are setting telephone poles and embroiling himself romantically with a local girl. The townies from Mercy get wind of the crew’s work and attempt to disrupt it. The increasing trust among the men engenders a heartfelt and healing friendship, especially for Arthur, whose filial protectiveness for Ronnie reflects the way he once cared for his younger brother. Flashbacks fill in Arthur's affair with Gary’s wife. The ending, however, is harsh and grim.
A thinking man's novel, containing all the rugged elements of Western allure.