Tag: General Fiction

by Abigail Ulman

Short stories, about young women- teenagers, or early twenties. All of them, far as I could tell, immigrants or students here in the US from abroad. I picked this one at random because the catalog said it was set in San Francisco, though some are in other places- Philadelphia, New York- in one story we’re never told where the girls are, because they don’t know themselves. I don’t quite know how to describe these. They felt very real and present- texting and smart phones, gender issues, human trafficking- and yet reminded me acutely of what it was like to be young, to be a university student, even though my experience in San Francisco was not like this (I didn’t go to clubs and bars, was never part of the dating scene, ha). I’m trying to figure out why these stories affected me so- sticking in my mind even though I found some of them distasteful (when described sex in too much detail). They depict girls and young women who are shallow, thoughtless, and make bad decisions- and yet they’re also victims of a system, of society and expectations and boredom. They can show streaks of kindness, or sudden insightful moments that seem beyond their years. In brief:

“Jewish History”- In history class students are asked to share experiences from Holocaust survivors in their families. Anya (from Russia) doesn’t have a story to tell. Then at home her parents remark on how she should appreciate what she’s got, as they went without and suffered for so many years, before they could emigrate. So next day Anya tells about the hard time her family went through (including her mother’s miscarriage), but is shut down in class- her story of suffering doesn’t count, it’s from the wrong era.

“Chagall’s Wife”- Sascha unexpectedly runs into her middle-aged teacher outside of school- sees him in a cafe and approaches to say hello. They end up spending the entire afternoon together- viewing art in a museum, going to a movie theater- and in the end, the reader suspects something else might happen, as he invites her to “go somewhere else”.

“The Withdrawl Method”- Claire finds out she’s pregnant, even though she thought she and her boyfriend were being careful. She bounces around between different casual friends- sharing her plan to get an abortion- and their responses are so varied. Flippant, cautionary, dismissive, angsty. She temporarily latches onto a different guy- met totally at random- he’s very levelheaded and kind about it, but seems a little confused by her. (I didn’t really get the point of this one).

“Warm-Ups”- four young Russian gymnasts are chosen to go with their coach to a conference in America, where they will perform to show off the skills he’s promoting. It seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, and Vera begs her parents to let her go- expenses are covered! But when they finally get there- barely able to speak or read English- she and the other pre-teen girls end up locked in a room that they suspect isn’t a hotel, and their coach has disappeared in a different taxi.

“Same Old Same As”- Ramona’s in therapy after suffering a bad injury from a space heater that caught fire and burned her leg. She tells the therapist about a moment when her step-father helped her out of the bath during her recovery care, and how uncomfortable it made her feel, and then starts describing the incident to others as sexual abuse. The story gets spread around school, she’s shocked at the amount of attention she gets, and other girls start sharing their stories with her- of men touching them inappropriately, or flashers, boys who casually convinced them to do things they didn’t really want to (sometimes in front of others), a cousin of a friend who was date raped, etc. She realizes that her experience was not unique- but also that hers wasn’t as serious? and then things escalate when a friend’s parent reports Ramona’s incident to the school- she finds herself at a meeting to determine if they should call child protection services.

“The Pretty One”- This girl is suddenly captivated by a guy she sees in a club. She finds out his name, his friends, where he works, and convinces him to date her. Even though they have nothing in common, she forces herself into his group of friends, his interests, etc- trying so hard to make it work when it’s obvious it never will.

“Head to Toe”- Two friends start to feel uninterested in all the usual parties, girl drama and shopping sprees. They ask their parents to take them back to a horse camp they’d been to as kids together. They’re put in a cabin with three younger girls- nine and ten-year-olds (which is a huge age difference when you’re fourteen). They enjoy riding the horses, and snub the younger girls until find them fighting and in tears after a game of “telling secrets.” The older girls smooth things over in what I thought was a very thoughtful manner, but later when they’re relating it to their own friends back home, they are completely dismissive and then fall right back into the party scene. I liked this one, until the end of it.

“Plus One”- I didn’t get this. At all. Girl has been writing a blog forever, gets an offer on a book deal. Has trouble writing and starts to feel terrified of the deadline. So she decides to get pregnant so she’ll have an excuse not to work. She convinces a friend- who is gay of all things- to be the father- and then has the baby, against everyone’s advice to stop this awful plan. And then her whole life changes when the baby arrives. The ending relieved me (I was worried it would take a different turn) but also left me wondering: why?

“Your Charm Won’t Help You Here”- Foreign student from London who’s been living in San Francisco, is travelling back there after a vacation somewhere else, and gets detained at the airport by homeland security. They don’t tell her much but it becomes apparent she’s overstayed her time as a student and is suspected of trying to actually immigrate. She spends hours being questioned (in a maddeningly circular conversation) and then is detained overnight in jail with a Russian woman who is even more confused than she is. Returned to the airport the following morning, not sure where she’s going to end up, the whole thing baffling, stressful, frightening and surreal.

I’m leaving out so many details- these were like little snippets of life, and they interlaced in a loose manner- a character from one story would refer to someone in another- as if they knew each other outside these pages. I kind of want to read some of them over again, even though there were parts that made me uncomfortable. I did feel like some of the stories dropped off suddenly- did Sascha go with her teacher home to his apartment? was the ending of “Warm-Ups” really heading where I thought it was?- but I suspect the author did that to maintain a sense of tension, which I surely felt.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
354 pages, 2015

by Faith Erin Hicks

Maggie’s been homeschooled with her three older brothers. Mainly by her mother who recently left them, leaving the teens with their police officer father. Now Maggie’s starting public high school, with all kinds of new experiences to navigate. Not the least of which is how to make friends- the few kids who talk to her appear to be shunned by the others, and there’s history between her brothers and a group of popular jocks that she doesn’t know about. Her new friends have punk hairstyles, piercings and a style that might look threatening- yet they’re cheerfully friendly, unlike the polished-looking popular kids. Her twin brothers are annoyed that everyone expects them to still do everything together, and now they’re fighting all the time. The oldest brother is into theater, and pretty good at it (I liked that). Maggie’s also got this problem of a ghost that follows her around- she often walks through the graveyard- and I was really let down when the storyline didn’t complete that part. The ghost never spoke, never seemed to accept the help Maggie was offering it (based on a wild guess at what it might be wanting). Oh, and there’s zombies too- in a school play her brother performs in- and I don’t really care for zombie or ghost stories for some reason. But I liked the artwork, especially the early sketches in the back of the book. I do think the original title fit better (seen in preliminary cover sketches): The Education of Maggie McKay. The story was pretty good, but it left too many things unanswered and I wished for just a tad more depth with how Maggie was handling her new friendships. Maybe a sequel is coming that will address those things.

Rating: 3/5
224 pages, 2012

by Susan Wiggs

One of the items for the reading challenge I’m doing is ‘read a book from your home country or state’ and I looked for books from my library that were set in San Francisco. I suppose this one is considered chick lit? It does have some romance but light on that, and a bit of a mystery, all tied neatly together. I would say the writing style is lighthearted, even if the themes tend to be serious. It’s about a young woman who faces sudden tragedy when her mother and boyfriend die in the same accident. She ditches her high-paying but stressful job in Sonoma County to move back to the city and care for her ailing grandfather, taking over her mother’s struggling bookstore. There’s a lot in the story about how hard she works to keep the bookstore open in site of piling debts and expensive repairs needed on the old building. Made me feel kinda guilty for how many times I’ve gone into a bookstore and only bought a few items, or none at all! Added to the headache of how to manage the bookstore’s finances are her worries about her grandfather’s health, and his struggles with memory loss. I thought his symptoms were due to Alzheimer’s at first, but there’s a sudden turn of events at the end of the story that reveals something else was going on, too. Her coworkers in the bookstore are supportive and charming, and she feels attracted to the “hammer for hire” guy who spends weeks doing repairs on the building, becoming a regular presence- but assumes he’s married (has a cute daughter who loves reading) and thus off-limits. Meanwhile she hopes getting a hot bestselling author to do an event for the bookstore will boost sales, but things get more exciting (and complicated) when the handsome author starts asking her out. It seems too good to be true (and yeah, he was).

Well, it was a good enough read. Some events in the story I saw coming a mile away, a few took me by surprise. Reading a novel set in a city I’m familiar with was fun, although the environs this character inhabited weren’t the area of San Francisco I know well. There’s quite a bit of the city’s history woven into the story as well, as some items that were hidden generations ago are found during repairs, and some family history is uncovered. Past love stories are told in brief, at the same time that the current one is slowly unfolding. Of course there’s lots of bookish love, too- quotes and favorite titles and memories of tidbits from books the characters share with each other. Which was lovely, but of the few books mentioned that were new to me, I didn’t feel interested to add any to my TBR. At all.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
368 pages, 2020

More opinions:
Annette’s Book Spot
Lark Writes
anyone else?

by D.E. Stevenson

I’m not familiar with this author, and I’m afraid this book I picked up at random somewhere is probably not her best work- I think it was the last one she wrote. It’s sequel to Gerald and Elizabeth, and since I haven’t read that one, it was slow going at first because I didn’t have a previously built up interest in the characters. Gerald is the main one in this story- a young man who works in an important shipyard and has been helping with security measures there. He goes off on vacation to the highlands of Scotland, where he stays in a curious old hunting lodge with the landed family and some other guests. They are going out on hunts to cull the local deer herd, which has grown larger than the land can support. Gerald is encouraged to go along and given opportunities to make a good shot but he really doesn’t want to shoot any deer, which nobody else understands. He shares stories of having shot lions in Africa, from necessity, and how unpleasant he found that- even while the younger boys listening are in awe at his “bravery” and want to hear all about how “fierce” the lion was (it was starving). Gerald is interested seeing how the deer are managed, but later he’d rather spend time at the lodge, being infatuated with the daughter of the household, Phil. He’s a very nice, mild-mannered and reasonable man, so doesn’t get along well with one of the guests Oliver, who’s a tedious braggart. Creates a nice bit of conflict, though never on Gerald’s part.

Honestly the first part of this book was very slow for me- I had little interest and was about to toss it as a DNF- then the deer stalking began and I found it a lot more interesting. I think that’s the best part of the whole thing, although a lot of readers (who are D.E Stevenson fans) feel opposite. Unfortunately the end kind of dives into a different kind of story- a young man in the hunting party gets accosted by strangers in a fog, then Gerald himself is kidnapped, apparently by members of a gang who want information on security measures at the shipyard. The whole rest of the book is about them trying to rescue Gerald, deal with the gang, and solve the little mystery of who attacked the younger man. There’s actually a scene where everyone is sitting around a room discussing the possibilities and some of them accuse each other! Then at the very end, it suddenly turns into a love story- the beautiful daughter Phil admitting that she likes Gerald in that way after all- and marriages are arranged (there’s another couple with a suddenly admitted love interest). Rather too hasty in my opinion. But then, I get the sense that as a whole, this type of book wasn’t written for me.

I was mostly disappointed that the stalkers never got the one “hummel” deer they were particularly trying to cull- it was a male deer without antlers and they didn’t want it passing on its faulty traits. There was a scene where they almost got it, but something startled the deer and it ran straight at the hidden men in a fright, getting too close so fast they were taken aback and didn’t shoot. I really kept expecting a final scene where this hummel would leap out and someone would take the chance to shoot it, maybe it would even trample the gang members into the heather, wouldn’t that be fitting, and it seemed the kind of story where that might happen- but it didn’t.

I did like the few bookish references- when Gerald is injured and has to stay abed, Phil brings him Jane Austen books from the local library. And when Gerald tells his story of lion-hunting, he mentions that he had referred to an old book which had belong to his father, it was The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by Colonel J.H. Patterson. He had not read it for years, but it had fascinated him when he was a boy. That’s one on my own TBR, if I ever find a copy!

Rating: 2/5
208 pages, 1971

by Elizabeth Graver

This book took me completely by surprise. In how close to home it was. I assumed from the jacket blurbs it was going to be about a troubled kid and a beekeeper- had no idea there was an element of mental illness in there, too. Warning for possible SPOILERS below.

At first this is a story about a mother moving with her pre-teen daughter from New York City to the countryside where she hopes for a fresh start. The daughter, Eva, has been caught shoplifting a number of times, she’s definitely got an attitude and maybe something else is going on. Her mother Miriam has to work long hours to support them, so Eva is left to her own devices- there’s a babysitter but she goes out bike riding and exploring alone. Finds a small farm nearby where a man puts out honey jars by the road for sale, on the honor system. You can guess what happens. Then Eva sneaks into the field where the hives are kept, and meets the beekeeper. She finds his work fascinating, starts pestering him with questions, hanging around, wanting to know more. He shows her things when he opens a hive, in spite of feeling uneasy about it. Meanwhile there’s chapters showing the mother’s point of view, and they weave into the past, telling what happened when Miriam first met Eva’s father. At first I thought this part so dull in comparison- personally I much preferred reading about how the bees were tended, and I related a lot more to the reclusive beekeeper, his reasons for settling on his grandmother’s farm leaving behind a lucrative desk job. . . but I soon found how relevant the backstory of Eva’s parents was.

SKIP this paragraph to avoid SPOILERS: her father had a mental illness, which he failed to disclose to Miriam when they first met, fell in love quickly and had a baby without much planning. He hadn’t had a bad episode in a long time and wanting to be better, thought he’d put it all behind him, until things slowly started unraveling. When Miriam finally realized something was seriously wrong, they were at a crisis point. This all felt way too familiar to me, as a reader- someone in my family has bipolar disorder, so I knew exactly what they were talking about it and a lot of it rang true to me. How the symptoms sneak up on you, subtly getting worse, but you don’t want it to be the mental illness so you don’t see it for what it is at first.. And after you’re always questioning: is my teen just being a teenager? is this normal mood swings? or is it a manic episode.

So I found the book really compelling, even though some of it was uneven, sometimes the dialog a bit awkward, the accident at the end a bit predictable, but not as shocking to me as in say, The Fire Pony. However the ending dropped off abruptly. I expected a bit more resolution- I was glad that Miriam finally told Eva more about her father, but she didn’t really explain the illness, and there was no hint of them finding out the answer to the big question: does Eva have it too. I suppose that’s realistic after all- you wouldn’t immediately tell an eleven-year-old who’s ready to find reasons to distrust you already, that you suspect she could have a serious mental health issue- but still I wanted to know more.

I liked this well enough I’ll look out for more by the same author.

Rating: 3/5
264 pages, 1999

by Sheri Reynolds

I was skeptical about reading this book because I thought it would have a strong religious bent, but found that once I started it, I simply couldn\’t put it down. It is about religion, but not the way I had guessed. It reminded me a lot of Witch Child– by the tone, and how it\’s about a young girl who doesn\’t quite fit into a secluded community.

Ninah belongs to the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God\’s Almighty Baptizing Wind- invented by her grandfather who gathered his family members, their spouses, offspring and cousins as his followers. There\’s about eighty people in the congregation and they live together on a communal farm. (They raise tobacco as a cash crop and the leader divides the profits among the members, but seems to keep most for himself). In this group, strict obedience is required, it seems like any kind of pleasure is forbidden, and harsh punishments are meted out. Infractions such as talking back to elders, drinking alcohol, or women cutting their hair are met with punishments like wearing barbed wire under your shirt, sleeping on nettles and thorns in the bed, having to lie in a freshly-dug open grave all night, or being locked in the cellar for weeks. The followers are taught that they must be pious, constantly pray and wait for the rapture when the righteous will be lifted up to heaven. They speak in tongues during some wild-sounding church meetings, really unlike anything I\’ve read about before. It was something to see- how the author wrote this character made me finally comprehend (a little bit) how a person could get caught up in that kind of belief system.

Ninah isn\’t sure she believes, though. She\’s afraid of the punishments and wants to feel close to God but also questions some things and finds herself growing attracted to James, her prayer partner. She\’s allowed to have private prayer sessions with James because the older folks see them as making a good match someday, and counsel the young people to seek out their hearts in prayer together. This goes in another direction, when Ninah and James convince themselves that their growing feelings for each other are a manifestation of God\’s love, so thus it can\’t be a sin when they express those feelings. Ninah ends up pregnant. The community does not react positively, to say the least. What follows is not at all what I expected, and I was gripped to the last page to find out what would happen to Ninah and the baby. Some parts of this story made me scratch my head, or roll my eyes- it\’s really weird in a few parts- and I wasn\’t too taken by the weaving metaphor- but the voice is lively, and the story compelling, of this young girl trying to find her way and lift her voice above all the strictures she lives with. (Especially as she sees how other kids are different, because she attends public school). The ending felt rather abrupt, but not enough to make me actively dislike the book. I would have liked to know more about how things worked out, but at least the community was starting to turn in a different direction by then.

Rating: 3/5                        320 pages, 1995

A Novel in Letters 

by Mark Dunn

I’ve had this book on my shelf for some two years, but hesitated reading it because well, from some reviews it just sounded too gimicky. It was- and it wasn’t. Very clever the wordplay, plenty of charm and humor throughout and yet how sobering the underlying message. The premise starts out with something rather ridiculous- there’s a small self-governing island where everybody loves language and letter-writing. It was founded by the man who created the famous pangram (a sentence using all the letters of the alphabet) the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. He’s so revered there’s a statue to him with the sentence below in tiles. One day a tile falls off: the letter Z.

The ruling Council declares that this must be a sign from their dead founder, who now wishes them to all quit using the letter Z, whether speaking or writing. The citizens don’t see that as much hardship and go along. But then more letters start to fall, and one after another is banned from use. The Council puts in place serious punishments for those who don’t comply. As the story is told in letters written between some of the island inhabitants, you can see how the restrictions of language starts to make things fall apart. At first people just choose different words to avoid problematic ones- making for sentences full of interesting word choices- I had to look so many up! Then their sentences get less prosaic and descriptive, more brief and to the point. Eventually so many letters are banned they have to substitute numerals, or use creative phonetic spelling (which was a bit tricky to puzzle out in the final pages). Some people outright give up and quit writing at all. Also as the governing Council tightens its control on people you see how they all respond- some quickly report each other for infractions, others band together and help those in need. The library is shut down, schools soon close, people deliberately leave the island, or are forced out- and so other business start to fail as there are fewer customers. Suspicions abound.
However there’s a possible solution- as the original revered pangram was presumed divine simply because it was so unique, if someone can come up with a new sentence using all the letters (without anything superfluous), it will prove the founder wasn’t godlike. (Because at this point, most of the Council were treating it like a religion and getting fanatical about things).
I thought the solution just so clever as the rest of the book- especially how it was discovered (made me laugh though, because the detail it came from was something I’d wondered earlier why it was in the book at all). I didn’t really get a sense of any characters in this story told through letters though- my focus first being what they were saying (especially when I had to figure out the meanings of invented or oddly phonetic words), and the second being what the letters told me about what was happening to the society at large. The individuals, I kind of just glossed over them.

Ella Minnow Pea has been reviewed all over the book blogs. Below is just a sampling:

Rating: 4/5                            208 pages, 2001

by Camron Wright 

     Based on a real place, but the story is fictional. About a family in Cambodia that lived on the outskirts of the largest waste dump in the country- making a meager living by picking through the trash for recyclables. Each day they barely earn enough to eat that night, and their young child is chronically ill. Sang Ly, the mother, despairs about the misery of her life- until she suddenly finds out that the short-tempered drunk woman who collects their rent (for a shack made out of tarps and cardboard on the edge of a cesspool) is literate. She convinces this woman to teach her to read- hoping it will somehow help her family improve their circumstances.

It does, but not at all in the way I expected. I thought- oh, they\’ll be able to read instructions on the medicines foreign doctors at free clinics keep giving them, that never seem to work, or they\’ll learn that having to pay rent for the crummy place where they live is a scam, or they\’ll be able to leave the dump and find better employment, thanks to becoming literate. Nope. Instead, woven through the whole length of the book are lessons on living true to yourself, making the best choices, rising above your circumstances, etc- all presented in the snippets of poetry and literature that the rent collector teaches to Sang Ly. Who, by the way, learned to read incredibly fast and was soon presented with summarized versions of Moby Dick and Romeo and Juliet by her teacher. I found that really hard to swallow the idea that her reading skills would have progressed so quickly. There are many Cambodian fables and myths as well- including their version of the Cinderella story- which I enjoyed and found very interesting. As the relationship between Sang Ly and her teacher grows more trusting, she starts to learn things about the rent collector\’s past- which makes everything start to appear in a different light. The ending has some very tidy connections, that are emotional but also a tad unbelievable. Through the novel there are glimpses of other aspects of life in Cambodia- a bit about the horrific history of the Khmer Rouge (which I know a little of from watching The Killing Fields), a look at life in the countryside when Sang Ly visits family, mention of child trafficking when an orphan girl in the dump faces the threat of being sold into prostitution by her older brother who\’s in a gang. I was puzzled when Sang Ly\’s child was given a traditional cure by a healer- and then afterwards seem miraculously better. My western brain tried to figure out how this worked- and my best guess was that the healer fed the child charcoal mixed into paste which absorbed some toxins the child had in its body from living in a waste dump his whole life. But really, who knows. I don\’t have to have an explanation, it\’s a story.
I really liked the parts about literature, even if they stretched my sense of belief somewhat. Aspects of the story- how learning to read opened up the world for this young woman and her family- reminded me somewhat of The Book Thief. Totally different setting and circumstances, but similar message about how books and knowledge can change lives. But- reading some other reviews (especially on LibraryThing) and finding out how about the author\’s inspiration for this story- how much he appropriated from a poor family who probably never saw any benefit- makes me feel uneasy about liking it. 

Rating: 3/5           271 pages, 2012
More opinions:

by Kacen Callender 

     Felix is a trans gay seventeen-year-old. He lives in New York, attends a special summer art school program, goes back and forth between his dad\’s apartment and his best friend\’s. He really wants to apply for a scholarship but can\’t quite get his portfolio together, and seems to spend a lot more time hanging out with his friends, talking about issues and messaging around on Instagram than actually making any art. But then, art wasn\’t really the focus of the story. It\’s relationships, and finding oneself, and coming to terms with how people do or do not see you, and how you see yourself. It\’s about feeling marginalized- Felix is also black- and honestly I was surprised at how often people within the LGBTQ community portrayed here cut each other down- for not being different enough, or for taking up each other\’s space. Felix is surrounded by friends who are gay or non-binary or otherwise gender non-conforming. He came across as a really emotional person, although we\’re inside his head so maybe it just appeared that way. He\’s upset with his father- who supports him in many ways but often uses the wrong pronouns and can\’t bring himself to say Felix\’s chosen name. He\’s shocked and horrified when someone hacks his online account, prints photos from before he transitioned, and displays them at the school. Felix is determined to find out who did this and get revenge- so he starts catfishing (a new term for me) another student on Instagram, pretty sure this guy is the culprit even though his friends warn him he could be mistaken. Things get awkward when Felix starts to realize he actually likes talking to this guy in his online persona, when in real life they can\’t stand each other. Meanwhile his best friend has started dating someone new, which hurts his feelings although he can\’t figure out why. 
I found this book a little hard to get into because well, it\’s not my usual type of read and the tangled mess of friendships, dating, and fake online identities (who knows what about whom?) kinda makes my head swim after a while. I was rather appalled at how quickly Felix jumped into his plan for revenge, but it also gave his character some realistic flaws, I admit. I also didn\’t like how Felix treated his father, or some of his friends later on in the story- but things get better near the end. Felix starts to do more painting, figures out some things about relationships, finds the bravery to speak honestly to his best friend, and bounces around New York attending LGBTQ support groups, going to the gay pride parade (although he hates the crowds and noise of parades- I\’m with him on that one!) and sometimes just loafing around the park with his friends. Some of the conversations in this book felt odd- especially in the support group- and some of the talks Felix had with his dad- I sympathized with the father a lot but on the other hand, found his advice to Felix regarding love rather strange. Because more than anything, Felix wanted to feel loved and have a strong connection with someone- he actually had that all along but didn\’t see it until the end. Well, it\’s a good story and I was eager to see if Felix would find the things he was looking for, but honestly I could have done without all the f-words and the characters were always smoking pot or drinking which also bothered me, but it made me feel so old

I sincerely thank Jenny for bringing this book to my attention and giving me the opportunity to read it.

Rating: 3/5                    354 pages, 2020

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.

Rating: 4/5                      373 pages, 1973

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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