Elmore charts the polychromatic emotional landscape of an American frontier family through four generations.
The threads of this family tapestry are sewn against a backdrop of Jackson Hole, Wyo., at the foot of the Tetons, in the 19th and 20th centuries. Vivian and Hud are among the first Europeans to live in the area, homesteaders in a wild land, where winter locks them in the valley for long months, and even the summer demands that they rely on their own devices. And sometimes those devices just aren’t up to the task. All the glories of the place–larkspur and paintbrush, cradle moon and river chatter–don’t suffice when life goes terribly wrong. Elmore cleanly drops one bomb after another on Vivian and Hud, their children and their children’s children, detonating them with mastery, some coming with a bang–a beating, a death–and some insidiously–a wasting melancholy, the squashing of small hopes that builds to a critical mass. The youth convey the story’s pep and innocence, letting the reader up for air to revel in an embryonic Wyoming and to witness its evolution from frontier to frontier commodity. But it is the older folk, and their tribulations, who propel the story. Elmore draws them with subdued care and complexity, ever on trial. Occasionally he lets the writing run away with itself: â€œThe Chagres River drifted by in brown swirls with the raw hypnotic movement of latent force.” Then he wades back in and pulls an irresistible image from the floodwaters: â€œGuil Huff’s house floated by intact with birds walking along its spine.”
An achingly and artfully rendered book about hard lives, many miseries and all-too-rare lambent moments.