by Elmer Kelton
Liked this one much better than I had remembered. I\’ve read it at least twice before, though not in over a decade. Set in West Texas, it\’s about a rancher struggling to hold onto his land and his livestock through a drought that lasts seven years. His love is cattle, but it\’s sheep that pays the bills- so quite a bit of this is about sheepherding and shearing time. When things start to get tough, he has to face the bitter choice of selling off some of his livestock, eventually even his sheep herd dwindles and he\’s forced to make some hard choices. Ranchers around him accept government assistance but Charlie Flagg resents the idea of \”taking handouts\” and refuses to sign up for the relief program, sticking it out on his own, whittling away his outfit, letting go his hired help. Tries to get his son, who is into rodeo and sees no value in the dried-up land, to come back and help him keep the ranch going, but that doesn\’t work out. Watches how others around him attempt to keep things afloat- some of their decisions turn out poorly, and others just barely help them squeak by. Like burning the spines off prickly pear to use it as livestock feed. I had forgotten entirely about the angora goats, so the ending was a surprise all over again to me, even though I did remember it had a hint of coming hope in the final pages. More about the land use and animal husbandry, it\’s also about the local politics in a small town, the financial issues in running the ranch, the uneasy relationship between landowners, Mexicans, and those recently come from across the border- frightened of being caught but desperate for work. I had also forgotten how much of this story is about the younger people, some chapters entirely told form the viewpoint of Charlie\’s son, his neighbor\’s daughter, or his foreman\’s oldest boy. It gave a good perspective changes as things shifted from the hands of the older generation into the new. The book gets a bit preachy sometimes with long ranting conversations, but I didn\’t mind, I was in the mood for a slow read. It was worth keeping around all these years, I think.