Ray's stories resonate hard and clear, very much word images reflecting the Montana setting of the collection.
The book opens with "How We Fall," a melancholy tale of Ben Killsnight, a Northern Cheyenne, and his white wife, Sadie, as they follow a lonely trail through the bitter country of addiction and then back to each other. "The Great Divide” chronicles the life of Middie, a massive, protean figure, the product of a Depression-era abusive childhood on an isolated Montana ranch. From rodeo to railroad, Middie's tale is reminiscent of the John Henry legend as he finishes college, labors on the railroad and fistfights his way across the great northwest because "he knows the taste of blood." "Three from Montana" introduces Shale and Weston and their father Edwin, an itinerant steel-spined high-school basketball coach. Unfathomable loss crashes into a single mother in "Rodin's The Hand of God" after her two young daughters drown. Shale appears again in "When We Rise," a meditation on basketball, brotherhood and the precious magic of being alive in the moment. Tori falls for Shannon in "Mrs. Secrest," but she doesn't see him clearly, a theme threading through the book—women expecting something from men they will never receive. In "The Dark between Them," Zeb, a white boy taking refuge on the reservation, meets Sara, a hard Northern Cheyenne girl, but both are caught up in meth, methadone and mushrooms. Almost every story is set under the great blue steel dome of the Montana sky. Almost every story follows a hard man who cannot understand where hardness should end. Almost every story watches as a lonely woman attempts to love such a man without understanding the anger, the hurt and the loneliness beneath the iron.
Think Hemingway or Jim Harrison, and know that Ray's collection is the deserving winner of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize.