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"Ishawooa, Wyoming, is far from bucolic nowadays. The sheriff, Crane Carlson, needs no reminder of this but gets one anyway when he finds a kid not yet twenty murdered in a meth lab. His other troubles include a wife who's going off the rails with bourbon and pot, and his own symptoms of the disease that killed his grandfather." "Einar Gilkyson, taking stock at eighty, counts among his dead a lifelong friend, a wife - and far too young - their only child; and his long-absent sister has lately returned home from Chicago after watching her soul ...
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"Ishawooa, Wyoming, is far from bucolic nowadays. The sheriff, Crane Carlson, needs no reminder of this but gets one anyway when he finds a kid not yet twenty murdered in a meth lab. His other troubles include a wife who's going off the rails with bourbon and pot, and his own symptoms of the disease that killed his grandfather." "Einar Gilkyson, taking stock at eighty, counts among his dead a lifelong friend, a wife - and far too young - their only child; and his long-absent sister has lately returned home from Chicago after watching her soul mate die. His granddaughter, Griff, has dropped out of college to look after him, though Einar would rather she continue with her studies and her boyfriend, Paul. Completing this extended family are Barnum McEban and his ward, Kenneth, a ten-year-old whose mother - Paul's sister - is off marketing spiritual enlightenment." What these characters have to contend with on a daily basis is bracing enough, involving car accidents, runaway children, strokes and Lou Gehrig's disease, not to mention the motorcycle rallies and rodeos that flood the tiny local jail. But as their lives become even more strained, hardship foments exceptional compassion and generosity, and those caught in their own sorrow alleviate the same in others, changing themselves as they do so. In this gripping story, along with harsh truths and difficult consolation come moments of hilarity and surprise and beauty.
“A tale teeming with loss, redemption and personal crisis. . . . Spragg’s novel throbs with honest accounts of a Mountain West town . . . caught between past and present. . . . Bone Fire establishes as compelling a sense of time and place as any in contemporary fiction.” —The Denver Post
“Spragg conjures the West with style and gravity. He can burrow into the tightest chambers of the heart, and his belief in family is palpable and moving.” —The Boston Globe
“Beautiful. . . . Reading Bone Fire is probably a lot like spending some time with the folks in Wyoming: A serious pleasure.” —The Oregonian
“[Spragg] captures the unruly West, wrangles it onto the page somehow and holds it down with just the words.” —Los Angeles Times
“Bone Fire is that rare thing, a novel with all the literary virtues of skill and style and pitch that you hope for but also a book that makes you turn pages far into the night to find out what happens.” —Kent Haruf
“[A] big-sky slice of life. . . . As slow and shambling as a run-down pickup, but that allows the fine-tuned characters wide-open space to breathe and their grief to become palpable.” —Entertainment Weekly
“The strength of Bone Fire rests in Spragg’s ability to render lives in the contemporary American West with a keen eye for physical and emotional detail. Spragg understands how the landscape shapes the lives of the characters, as well as the way the modern world encroaches on the landscape. This is still the West of rodeos and pickup trucks, but it’s also the West of Google, Netflix, and GPS navigation.” —Kansas City Star
“It’s the author’s endearingly biting characters, not the slowly unpacking whodunit, that drives [Bone Fire]. You root for these people no matter how much dysfunction they leave in their wake, mostly because they’re always saying things you’d never have the guts to utter out loud.” —Outside
“[A] poignant modern Western. . . . Each member of [Spragg’s] cast is vibrant on the page, not because they resemble people one might know, but because they become intensely familiar and stay that way long after the book has been shelved.” —The Anniston Star
“Spragg is so spot on when it comes to describing small town life in the American West, his prose seems to leap off the printed page. . . . Spragg is a gifted writer.” —The Tucson Citizen
“A starkly beautiful portrait of the modern West. Spragg is an author with a keen eye for both the poetic splendors and ugly realities of this much-romanticized country.” —The Globe and Mail (Canada)
“As Spragg’s story slowly unfolds and gradually picks up speed, his Wyoming is as tangible as his characters’ yearning for connection.” —Curled Up With A Good Book
“Spragg writes . . . with the smoothness of a river stone as he weaves a tale of loss and compassion, loyalty and family, and ultimately, love. . . . Sure to bring a lump to the throat.” —Las Vegas Review-Journal
“Mark Spragg writes about ordinary people extraordinarily well. . . . Emotionally charged and well-written, Bone Fire is truly an exceptional story, with a main character everyone can relate to.” —Sacramento News & Review
Excerpted from Bone Fire by Mark Spragg Copyright © 2010 by Mark Spragg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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2. Page 6 describes Griff “finding it impossible to admit that when she and Paul are making love it’s the grinding of their bones she hears, the clamor of one animal moving against another.” Why does Griff think of sex with Paul this way? How would you characterize Griff and Paul’s relationship?
3. Spragg often begins a chapter without making it clear which character is being discussed, preferring to use pronouns at first and reveal the character in question a few paragraphs into the chapter. Could you always tell which character was which? What purpose might this initial ambiguity serve in Spragg’s narrative?
4. At the scene of the murder, on page 20, Crane thinks nothing of taking a beer out of the victim’s fridge and drinking it. Later in the novel, he also smokes marijuana. How does the sheriff approach his job? Is he more concerned with justice than with the strict letter of the law? Is this an outdated mind-set?
5. On page 29, Paul tells Griff that he prefers Chicago to Wyoming because he can “go out for a beer and not have the rest of the bar waiting for Tonto to get drunk and piss his pants, or pull a knife and go to scalping, and you know goddamn well that’s how it can feel for me here.” Were you surprised by Paul’s frank description of racism in the West?
6. When Crane starts to suspect there is something wrong with his health, he doesn’t tell his wife. He even lies to her about his neurologist’s visit—on page 37, we learn that “he told Jean he had to escort a prisoner to Billings and drove by himself to the clinic.” In fact, Jean doesn’t find out about Crane’s ALS until Helen tells her on page 201. Why does Crane keep his diagnosis from his wife? What does it tell us about their relationship?
7. Why, on pages 67–69, does Einar decide to dig a hole and burn “all the letters he’d written Ella from Korea, most of the family photographs, wedding rings, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, everything he could put his hands on that authenticated his eighty years of using up a body”? Does his justification—that he doesn’t want Griff “to have to deal with anything but the disposal of his body”—ring true to you? Is the act really one of concern for Griff, or is it a sign of dementia?
8. On page 77, Marin tells Einar she thought maybe they had fallen out of touch because Einar didn’t like the fact that she lived with a woman—to which he responds, “I wouldn’t know anything about that.” Later, on page 159, Kenneth debates his own sexuality, and McEban tells him, “You’re just fine either way.” How does Bone Fire deal with the topic of homosexuality? Did you find it to be sensitive? Realistic?
9. One of the most striking aspects of Bone Fire is the way in which it juxtaposes old-fashioned Western scenes, like horseback riding and tending to the ranch, with contemporary technology and culture—for example, the iPod Kenneth receives from Claire (page 111), the text-messaging slang Starla uses with Crane (page 114), or the TV shows Jean watches (page 118). How fluidly do Spragg’s characters move between their old-world sensibilities and their new-world lives? Do you think Spragg is making a statement about American culture? What might it be?
10. When Kenneth is about to run away from Rodney and Claire’s house, he remembers that “his mother had told him once that it wasn’t lying if you told people what they wanted to hear” (page 145). What does this tell the reader about Kenneth’s mother? Why is it so easy for her to manipulate Rodney and McEban? Later in the same paragraph, Kenneth tries to anticipate the questions that might come up, but “didn’t kid himself about them not being lies.” Is Kenneth more mature than his mother? If so, how did he come to be that way?
11. Why does Kenneth choose to leave? What does his life with McEban offer that Rodney and Claire can’t?
12. Bone Fire might seem at first like a traditional mystery novel—Crane discovers someone murdered just twenty pages in, and spends much of the novel on the case. However, the novel doesn’t function as a whodunit: McEban doesn’t gather clues, the murderer doesn’t turn out to be any of the characters we get to know, and it would be impossible for the reader to guess what had happened. In fact, on pages 151–157, Janey Schilling offers a full confession that explains all the circumstances of the murder. If Bone Fire is not a mystery, what role does JC Tylerson’s death play in the story?
13. One connecting thread between many of the characters in the story is a person the reader never meets: Griffin, who is Einar’s son, Griff’s father, and Jean’s ex. How does the memory of Griffin influence the narrative?
14. Why does Griff kick Paul out of her clay firing on page 189?
15. On page 221, McEban comes across a car accident. Were you surprised that it turned out to be Jean’s accident? Did Jean need to be fatally wounded in order to realize that she actually loved Crane? Do you believe they truly loved each other?
16. Does Paul make the right choice in deciding not to go to Uganda after all? Will he and Griff be happy together in Chicago? Will Einar and Marin be happy in Wyoming?
17. What did you make of Brady and Crane’s final confrontation on pages 230–232? When Brady pleads, “Can’t you just fucking do this? Pretend I’m on fire,” what does he mean? Is justice served?
18. Spragg describes Griff’s bone sculptures to some extent, but also leaves them open to interpretation—what did you imagine they looked like? Why does Griff choose to leave them with Einar?
19. There are many fires throughout the novel; what is the significance of the last fire that McEban, Einar and Kenneth build in the final chapter?
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Posted March 16, 2010
Mark Spragg's latest book, Bone Fire, continues the story of Griff started in An Unfinished Life. I suggest you start with An Unfinished Life first or the sequel will be confusing. Bone Fire picks up with Griff dropping out of college to take care of her grandfather Einar who has become ill. Griff has become an artist, using pottery as her medium. This was one of my favorite parts of the book. Her art sounds amazing, very unique, and is so thoroughly described I could almost see it.
Many characters from An Unfinished Life make appearances and they are as human, gritty, and loving as before. I have a real weakness for Mark Spragg's western characters. The plot is fast-paced and interesting, but sometimes jumbled up a bit. The frantic pace can detract from Spragg's real talent of drawing out his characters and the landscape.
I enjoyed Bone Fire. I didn't think it was as good as An Unfinished Life, but it was nice to see where the characters had gone with their lives. If you liked Peace Like a River or Evensong you will appreciate Mark Spragg's books.
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There are many ways to enjoy Bone Fire: For new readers of Spargg's work, this is a lovely introduction to his rich prose and deeply drawn characters within a plot that runs as quickly as a spring brook. I envy the new reader meeting Einer, McEban, Griff, Jean and Paul for the first time within this story full of Spragg's crystal clear imagery of the modern western landscape. Enjoy!
For myself and the many other fans of Spargg's books, (Where Rivers Change Direction, The Fruit of Stone, and An Unfinished Life,) we can settle in and be entranced by this new chapter of characters grown dear to us, and painted in full color with Spragg's lyrical writing. I can get lost in the prose like a spiritual acolyte having their first moment of Being - I just want to linger within the moment of the language, possibly forever. But the unhurried plot begs me to turn page after page to travel with these beautiful, damaged, perfect characters once more.
Bone Fire has inspired me to re-read Spragg's other books once again as first chapters to this current story - yet a third way to enjoy the book. I feel fortunate to have them all in my library, and look forward to future books whether we follow these characters or new ones. I highly recommend them all.
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Posted September 9, 2013
I enjoyed this book. The characters were well drawn and engaging, thoroughly human and dealing with real human conflicts. The writing is simple, understated, and powerful. I've read all of Mr. Spragg's books, and I'm looking forward to the next. Where Rivers Change Direction is one of my favorite all time favorites.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 4, 2013
Posted April 3, 2010
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Posted December 12, 2010
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