Thursday, January 28, 2010
Format: 262 pgs hardback
Characters: Bandy, Iona and Tracy Dorner
Setting: Idaho valleys
Source: Bloomsbury publishers review copy
This is an intense book. The setting is stark and beautiful--the wilds of Idaho. I've never been there, but I had no trouble picturing the trees,the clouds,the winds,the gulleys,the old barns, and the valley.The scene is haunting.
The characters are intense. There are three: Bandy, Iona, and Tracy. While several others play more than cameo roles, these three broken, dysfunctional, hurting, needy people form the basis of the story and and keep us from putting down this book while we read how they try to mend their lives and the lives of those they hurt.
The story itself is intense. There are action scenes,and scenes of incredible stillness watching two or three people trying to puzzle out what to say, where to go, what to do next. While there is no plot per se, there is a distinct beginning, a page-turning middle and a clear and dramatic end. The reader is pulled in from the very first pages and marches inexorably to an end at once fearful and hopeful.
Bandy Dorner, home from service in the Army, awakes from a drunken stupor in his crashed car, to find his house burned to the ground, and his pregnant wife running off with her lover. There's a struggle with the arresting law enforcement persons, and when next we see Bandy,the convicted felon sitting in a prison 18 years later facing the son he never knew he had. Tracy, tired of living with his alcoholic mom Iona, has run to meet and claim his other parent.
Iona manages to provide for her son during those long years of Bandy's imprisonment by first marrying an OK guy, and moving to Washington State. Then when that husband dies, Iona finds herself working a series of dead-end jobs, and moving in with her sister. Both ladies find it easier to 'bring home the bacon' by servicing gentlemen in their bedroom rather than waiting tables, or running a cash register, as long as the booze and drugs are well stocked.
As soon as he is old enough, Tracy sets out to find his roots. After visiting his father in the prison, he returns to the original family homestead in Idaho and begins to rebuild. When his father is released from prison, and his mother sobers up and comes to find the son she finds she misses, the three of them begin a slow waltz, circling each other, measuring how much effort building a relationship as well as a house will take.
Brian Hart gives us a gut-wrenching story in clean, clear, poetic prose. There is pain, hurt, violence, and heart-breaking betrayal while at the same time there is love, forgiveness, tenderness, and reaching out to rebuild what has been lost. We find ourselves routing for these people even as we fear the possibility of a train-wreck.
The ending is absolutely stunning. We should all hope that Hart has more in his repetoire where this came from. It's a keeper.