Fencing the Sky

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Overview

From critically acclaimed author of The Meadow comes a haunting novel of the American West.

Circumstances spiral out of control when an accidental murder springs from the best intentions. With one man dead and another on the run, this is a story about violence and how it destroys lives when the land is at stake. This lyrical first novel--long-awaited by the many admirers of James Galvin's The Meadow--is ...

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Fencing the Sky: A Novel

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Overview

From critically acclaimed author of The Meadow comes a haunting novel of the American West.

Circumstances spiral out of control when an accidental murder springs from the best intentions. With one man dead and another on the run, this is a story about violence and how it destroys lives when the land is at stake. This lyrical first novel--long-awaited by the many admirers of James Galvin's The Meadow--is nothing less than the story of the disappearance of the American West.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Part celebration and part angry lament, Fencing the Sky is a memorable debut, the most ambitious and original novel about the modern West to have appeared in some time." --Kirkus (starred review)

"Galvin writes with laconic precision about a life he obviously knows well...this is an extraordinarily lyrical book." --Men's Journal

"You don't have to be a Great Plains cowboy to join in Galvin's powerful, haunting elegy for a lost way of life." --Wilwaukee Journal Sentinel

"[Galvin's] prose is disciplined, beautifully unadorned, and unwaveringly true." --The Boston Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
True to form, this post-Cormac McCarthy western by first-time novelist, poet and nonfiction writer (The Meadow) Galvin is heavy on biblical cadences, macho philosophy and metaphor. Land developer Merriweather Snipes likes to harass cattle in his off-road vehicle, and when he is murdered in the act, lassoed around the neck by cattle owner Mike Arans, none of his Larimer County, Colo., neighbors mourns his death. By selling acreage that used to be ranch land to suburbanites looking for country homes, Snipes had already made himself extremely unpopular with the recently widowed Mike , Mike's neighbor Oscar Rose and Snipes's own neighbor Doctor Adkisson Trent. The disrespectful newcomers bring with them traffic, ignorance of water and range use, and hoodlum children. So Snipes's murder is considered more of a lucky accident by the county's original inhabitants, who help Mike escape. The story follows a double track. On one side it trails Mike as he slips down paths in the National Forest, pursued by Apache tracker and Vietnam vet Jim Thomas. Alternately, Galvin provides a series of micro-histories of the decline of ranching culture, as exemplified in the lives of Ad and Oscar, who are native to the country, and Mike, who migrated as a hippie refugee in the '70s. Galvin's prose tries for some combination of the laconic and the sublime, but too often devolves into such imprecise lyricism as "His laugh was like a school bus, big, capricious, bright." Still, the patchwork quality of the narrative serves the story well, and the author's vision of a new American West populated by a motley collection of old-timers and newcomers rings true. In its more relaxed moments, the novel gives readers a worthwhile glimpse of the small-scale rancher's endangered world. Regional author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
One day while rounding up stray cattle, student radical turned Colorado cowboy Mike Arans encounters urban real estate developer Merriweather Snipes riding his ATV across the range. In a seemingly out-of-character action, Mike ropes him, pulling him off the ATV and killing him. As the novel moves between past and present, Mike's attempts to stay a step ahead of Apache master tracker Jim Thomas are set against the long-simmering conflict between Snipes's values and those of the older ranching community. The pursuit culminates at the entrance to an underground river, where Mike decides on a course of action that will mean either freedom or death. While Snipes is something of a cardboard villain, this is a relatively minor flaw. In his first novel, Galvin, better known as a poet and nonfiction writer, has created a passionate and lyrical chronicle of cultural clashes in the contemporary West. Recommended.--Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel from poet/nonfiction writer Galvin (The Meadow, 1992, etc.) about the ongoing destruction of western rangelands and the decline of the old, land-centered way of life. Mike Arans, a self-reliant cattleman, finds Meriweather Snipes, a canny, repellent land speculator and developer, stampeding cattle that have strayed onto the developer's land and, in a fit of anger, chases him. It's hard to say if what happens next is murder or an accident, but Mike, fearing the worst, takes his favorite horse and rides off into the remaining wilderness areas of Wyoming. His good friend Oscar, a bright, stubborn, struggling cattleman like Mike, does what he can to help Mike in his attempts to elude the law, and Galvin shuttles back and forth between Mike's cross-country flight and the history of the high plains over the past several decades as seen through Mike and Oscar's subsequent—and wrenching—attempts to make a go of cattle-raising. The economy has worked both to bankrupt small cattlemen and inspire a new and devastating land rush. The "land pimps" (Galvin's phrase for developers) buy up large swaths of land from exhausted ranchers and turn it into small parcels to be peddled to ignorant romantics looking for a chance to live out their glossy vision of the West. But without the ranchers to maintain drainage, the little water available evaporates, trees die, and soil blows away. The new settlers resent the old ones, with their cattle and the fences vital to managing the range, and violence follows. Galvin works in this sorry history of the modern West skillfully, without slowing or diluting the drama of his story. His evocation of the hard specifics of ranching life and thesatisfactions of physical labor, and the lyrical precision of his portrait of the western plains, are distinctive and deeply moving. Part celebration and part angry lament, Fencing the Sky is a memorable debut, the most ambitious and original novel about the modern West to have appeared in some time.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312267346
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 12/28/2000
  • Pages: 276
  • Sales rank: 722,521
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

A beloved poet, celebrated nonfiction writer and now novelist, James Galvin is the author of The Meadow. He teaches at the University of Iowa and divides his time between Iowa City and Tie Siding, Wyoming.

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