By: Joe Henry
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: June 2011
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: August 1, 2011
A brief but in-depth look at a man’s battle scars as well as his triumphs throughout life, allowing the reader to take part in some of the worst and most precious moments a person can possibly experience.
Spencer is a young man from Wyoming who works on the Y-Cross Ranch. There, he ‘breaks’ horses by using his calm and serene skills that create an almost immediate friendship between man and animal. This one summer, a nineteen-year-old girl named Elizabeth comes to the Y-Cross Ranch with her family. From back East, her father sought the mineral hot springs of the West to help his illness. The next day summer will be over, and both Spencer and Elizabeth are traveling back East; Spencer is headed back to school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But before Spencer leaves, he tells his mother that he is most definitely going to marry Elizabeth.
Even though their backgrounds are completely opposite, and Elizabeth’s East Coast ‘society’ family wants their daughter to have nothing to do with the Western interloper with the rough diction and odd vocabulary, Elizabeth goes against their wishes and becomes his wife.
What follows are chapters offering short stories about Spencer and Elizabeth’s life together. Readers attend their Valhalla, NY wedding which is the most humorous part of the book, and watch as they begin their life together out West. Chapters consist of a mare birthing a foal in the freezing cold weather, as Elizabeth and Spencer come together to try and keep both mother and child alive. Their sons - Lonny, Luke, and Whitney - enter into each and every chapter, as they go from learning the power of punishment and what “freezing cold” really is by listening to their father’s horrific stories of the War; to celebrating a truly beautiful Christmas Eve, that will remind some readers of the sound of snow crunching under their boots as they stared up at a crystal-clear moonless “freezing” night sky with a bounty of stars to wish upon.
As the boys grow and enter manhood, the author offers various looks at how the boys face their own fears and demons, and how their family thrives, fights, and survives. The author presents a lovely story - almost poetic - as he unveils various layers of a soulful man who has lived a life full of highs and lows - mountains and troughs; and who, in the end, can at least say that, no matter what the struggles were that he faced, he still lived.
The plot is very rich with detail and emotion, and the cast of characters is truly charming. It has been a long while since a story that is filled with this much elegance, sorrow, and heart-wrenching words has been “gifted” to the public.
Quill Says: Lyrical and completely unique, readers will be in awe of the harshness of life for this very memorable Wyoming rancher.