This book reminds me of Lonesome Dove, only Wyoming instead of Texas and now instead of then. Rancher Barnum McEban (he had a twin named Bailey who died in infancy) with lifelong friend Bennett Reilly goes in pursuit of Bennett’s wife, who left them both for a physicist in Denver.
Women are always leaving guys like these, and Ansel knows why, Ansel being the family cowhand who showed up one day at the McEban ranch and never left, and who is also pretty much the chorus of this story. Ansel on Gretchen, the woman both Bennett and McEban (and, evidently, now the physicist) love.
“Bennett hasn’t got a hell of a lot going for him,” he says, “but at least he wasn’t bashful about telling her he loved her. She never had to wonder whether he cared…”
The story is told in alternating timelines, one of McEban as a boy and the other as McEban the man, and the elder hasn’t learned a hell of a lot more than the younger did. A hard, spare existence told in hard, spare prose, there is a lot of emptiness in the country reflected in the characters. It is an emptiness that drives some of the characters literally insane, and it feels like the only reason some of them keep living is because they don’t know how to do anything else.
He looks down at the dog. “It’s no goddamn wonder I live alone. I’m either working or in intensive care.”
In the end, McEban loses two family members and gains two more, and then he goes home. Gretchen doesn’t, and good for her. At least she has the sense to realize she needs more and the courage to reach for it.
Some wonderful descriptions of the country, but, Spragg says, there is a price for living there.
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