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OLD BORDER ROAD by Susan Froderberg Kirkus Star


by Susan Froderberg

Pub Date: Dec. 9th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-316-09877-9
Publisher: Little, Brown

In Froderberg’s highly stylized, uniquely voiced first novel, a young bride’s growing disillusionment about her marriage coincides with the drought plaguing her Arizona community.

Seventeen-year-old Girl, whose briefly sketched, quickly forgotten parents have left her pretty much on her own, marries Son, the heir to a successful rancher, after a short, passionate courtship. Son’s mother and father, called Rose and Rose’s Daddy, are loving in-laws and their ranch was a paradise of fecundity in its time, as Rose’s Daddy explains in elaborate recitations. But a drought has set in, both physical and spiritual. Without water, the local economy is in a tailspin. The ranch sits above an aquifer, and in the past Rose’s Daddy has made a fortune selling off water. But now he is struggling. Son is soon leaving Girl to drink and entertain other women, in particular the daughter of his father’s longtime mistress Pearl. Deeply religious Rose withers away and dies, but not before she’s introduced Girl to Padre, a New Age minister. Son’s father sinks into a deep depression, ultimately committing suicide. Son’s mourning takes the form of profound anger and even wilder carousing. Girl seeks counsel from Padre, on whom she develops a profound and requited crush. She moves off the farm and stays briefly with Pearl’s father while Pearl and her mother are “north,” where Pearl is preparing to give birth, possibly to Son’s child, an irony since Girl has an abortion. But Son begs Girl to return to him and together they prepare for the big rodeo. The church burns down, and Padre moves on to another parish. Son is thrown from his horse, sustaining major neurogenic injuries that leave him with a ruined face and completely dependent on Girl. And then the rains come. Realism is not the point in Girl’s elliptical narrative, told in a vernacular that mixes biblical grandiosity and down-home grit.

An undeniably audacious, if self-consciously Southwest Gothic debut that fans of Cormac McCarthy should adore.