Three intensely atmospheric and melancholy novellas of the West, by short-fiction writer Parvin (The Loneliest Road in America, 1997), in which three people probe the edges of their former lives, with varying degrees of success.
The opening story, “Betty Hutton,” concerns a small-time crook named Gibbs, a forger trying to jumpstart his life after prison, who steals his girlfriend's money and an old Chrysler to take him from Jersey far into the Montana mountains, pursuing the visions of his last cellmate. What Gibbs finds are an ice-fishing old man, who gives him a line and some breathing space, then, in a nearly abandoned mining town, a wild poker game in a bar, which goes on for time without end while a blizzard rages outside. When it's over, Gibbs is looking at things differently. The title piece offers a possibility of romance: a laid-up logger, Darby, left behind while his buddies go off on the last great old-growth bonanza, connects with a lonely woman whose faded beauty still dazzles him speechless. They meet for lunch weekly, and in the innocence of the meetings a tentative spark is struck. Darby, despite strong links to where he is, is ready to start fresh with her and her disabled kid, but tragedy turns all his dreams to dust. Finally, “Menno's Granddaughter” tells of Lindsay, headed east by train after years living in the West, who decides to visit the remote Wyoming town where her ex-husband killed himself after he left her for another woman. The husband was a well-known writer, and as she travels Lindsay starts an awkward letter to him; by the time a snowstorm strands her, feverish, in the town she sought, she's decided to make contact with the other woman—and out of their mutual pain comes a healing.
The natural world is intense throughout, but all the people here are much of a piece, so alike in their lonely stillness as to be interchangeable.