Blackbelly: A Novel

Overview

Blackbelly is a contemporary western that suspensefully traces the consequences of a crime of bigotry. It is the story of an unjustly accused sheep rancher's struggle to reclaim his life, and that of a woman close to him, from perils imposed by a domineering father and the culture of a remote Idaho town. The author, a forester's daughter raised in Idaho and Montana, conveys an authentic sense of place, with the gritty but proudly independent community of Sweetwater a prominent ...
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Overview

Blackbelly is a contemporary western that suspensefully traces the consequences of a crime of bigotry. It is the story of an unjustly accused sheep rancher's struggle to reclaim his life, and that of a woman close to him, from perils imposed by a domineering father and the culture of a remote Idaho town. The author, a forester's daughter raised in Idaho and Montana, conveys an authentic sense of place, with the gritty but proudly independent community of Sweetwater a prominent part of the story.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sharfeddin weaves elements of suspense and the supernatural through this accomplished western about an ornery loner of a sheep rancher, Chas McPherson, who hires a home health-care nurse, Mattie Holden, to care for his dying father, a once powerful, wrathful preacher now incapacitated by Parkinson's. When the house of the lone Muslim family in Sweetwater is burned down, the inhabitants of the tiny Idaho town accuse Chas of arson, their old grudges against his father fueling their suspicion of the reclusive younger man. While Mattie improves the ranch with her womanly touch, she is troubled by the sense that the old man can see into people's souls and ferret out their sins. She also battles secret drug addictions, turning to the liquor bottles that Chas keeps for his own habit. Not surprisingly, Chas and Mattie find emotional and physical solace in each other. Authentic descriptions of the stark, isolated landscape, rustic conditions and the bitter winter form a backdrop to the characters' turmoil, suggesting a timelessness that is only occasionally broken with touches of modernity. Missteps, such as the awkward depiction of Chas and Mattie's sexual relationship, can break the spell that Sharfeddin casts, but this is an impressive debut. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Set in the farming town of Sweetwater, ID, this is a superbly crafted first novel about an unlikely romance that develops between a surly, hard-drinking bachelor farmer and the live-in nurse he hires to help take care of his dying father. Both characters are wonderfully drawn: the honorable but embittered Chas, a blackbelly sheep farmer, is still haunted even in late adulthood by his pitiless and unforgiving father, a fire-and-brimstone preacher with a sinister gift for "seeing" other people's sins and making them painfully public; nurse Mattie is attempting to flee substance abuse and family misfortune. A hate crime committed against a Muslim family is the central event of the novel, and Sharfeddin uses this tragedy-which threatens to consume both Chas and Mattie-to explore a wide range of themes related to sin and guilt, personal integrity, and the destructive power of prejudice. Essentially, however, this is a story about the miracle of love blossoming in unlikely places. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rough-hewn first novel about Idaho sheep rancher Chas McPherson, an emotionally stunted recluse who can only relate to his animals. Chas, 41, ekes out a living raising Blackbelly sheep, bred for food rather than wool. His homestead near the hamlet of Sweetwater is falling down. Chas hires Mattie Holden, a nurse from Spokane, to care for his father Franklin, in the final stages of Parkinson's disease. Chas has long been under the thumb of Franklin, a one-time charismatic preacher, now immobilized and mute, who still holds the household in his sway. When Chas learns that the Teleghanis, Sweetwater's sole Muslim family, can't afford a lamb for Eid, he leaves them one under cover of darkness, later refusing to take credit for the gift. The sighting of his truck that night implicates him in the subsequent arson of the Teleghani's home. Investigating the crime, Sheriff Edelson is perplexed by the suspect's arrogance but soon realizes that the town on whose margins Chas has long lived has already condemned him without trial. Sweetwater has borne both McPhersons a grudge since a long-ago revival meeting at which Franklin publicly exposed the sins of the congregation, sowing enmities and destroying marriages. Mattie and Chas circle each other warily, first as drinking companions and later as lovers. It gradually emerges that she was once addicted to painkillers and had her nursing license suspended for elder abuse. Meanwhile, Sheriff Edelson hones in on two local storekeepers who protest too much about Chas's guilt. Comparisons will be made to Kent Haruf, but Sharfeddin's prose is more raw, her dialogue less supple. Nevertheless, her eye for detail (she's a Blackbelly rancher herself) and herunsentimental compassion for her characters and their stunted lives will entrance readers. Stark terrain beautifully rendered.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781882593972
  • Publisher: Bridgeworks - Warren Phillips
  • Publication date: 10/25/2005
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 7.16 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Heather Sharfeddin and her husband raise Blackbellies on their ranch in Sherwood, Oregon, 22 miles southwest of Portland. Ms. Sharfeddin is also a manager for a software company in Beaverton. She has had short fiction published and, in 2004, won honorable mention for the Willamette Writers' annual Kay Snow Award.
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