In Open Spaces

In Open Spaces

3.7 7
by Russell Rowland

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Set in the vast and unforgiving prairie of eastern Montana from 1916 to 1946, In Open Spaces is the compelling story of the Arbuckle brothers:

A rising baseball star who mysteriously drowns in the river

A World War I veteran who abandons his family


Set in the vast and unforgiving prairie of eastern Montana from 1916 to 1946, In Open Spaces is the compelling story of the Arbuckle brothers:

A rising baseball star who mysteriously drowns in the river

A World War I veteran who abandons his family only to return to reclaim the family ranch

The youngest brother, whose marriage to Helen creates a fault line between him and the rest of his family


A shrewd, observant man burdened with growing suspicions of Jack's role in his brother's death

With breathtaking descriptions of the Montana landscape, Russell Rowland masterfully weaves a fascinating tale of the psychological wars that can rip a family apart...and, ultimately, the redemption that can bring them back together.

Editorial Reviews

Ha Jin
“Charged with dramatic tension — a joy to read.”
C. Michael Curtis
“In Open sage, humane, and immensely readable.”
C.J. Box
“Russell Rowland’s In Open Spaces is as good as it gets...a powerful book.”
New York Times Book Review
“A family epic that has a muted elegance.…A gracefully understated novel.”
San Francisco Weekly
“Compelling. Cinematic. A fine first novel about the strength of family.”
Denver Post
“Like Norman McLean’s A River Runs Through It,...Rowland...brings [Montana’s] unique beauty alive....Good reading.”
Publishers Weekly
Sibling rivalry turns sinister in Rowland's outstanding debut, which follows a Montana ranching clan as it struggles to survive the Depression, two world wars and family tragedy. Narrator Blake Arbuckle finds himself torn between trying to preserve his tattered family and striking out to pursue a baseball career, after his older brother George drowns in the Missouri River near the family's ranch and his younger sister dies of spinal meningitis. George's death brings out the manipulative dark side in another of Blake's brothers, Jack, who is suspected of foul play in the incident, and after a series of bitter fights with his father about ranch work, Jack takes off and enlists in the army. He reappears several years later with a beautiful woman, Rita, in tow, and Blake's instant attraction for his brother's bride increases as Jack's various character flaws begin to resurface and he eventually leaves Rita. Blake turns down his chance to escape after a promising tryout with the Cardinals, and the family turmoil over the fate of the ranch increases exponentially when another brother, Bob, brings home Helen, a partner as devious as brother Jack. Rowland's examination of family dynamics is poignant and revealing, especially as he unveils a series of revelations about Jack's womanizing, his fraudulent war record and a series of unscrupulous business deals culminating in a scheme to take control of the ranch. Blake's compassion makes him a memorable narrator, and Rowland's sense of craft and control, as well as his ability to integrate the land into the tale, make his book a noteworthy debut. (July) Forecast: Booksellers pitching this book to fans of Norman McLean and the softer side of Cormac McCarthy could help Rowland find his deserved audience. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A heartfelt debut in which a Montana ranch family battles both Mother Nature and human nature. It's punishing country, southeastern Montana: choking dust-storms, killer droughts, merciless winters, and a population that puts on pessimism like an extra layer of clothing. Sensing he's in danger of becoming typical, young Blake Arbuckle fights against it, wants something better for himself but has no real idea what it might be. The time is the early part of the 20th century, and when we meet the Arbuckles (loosely based on the author's grandparents) they're attempting to cope with the tragic drowning of Blake's older brother George. But it's worse than that. The excruciating thing, the thing that brings despair chillingly close, is the growing sense among the family that the death might not have been accidental. Jack, the oldest brother, who was with George when he died, is undeniably shaken by what happened, by whatever it was that happened, but enigmatic Jack is hard to read. And it's a given that there was little love lost between the two brothers. With everything still unresolved, Jack suddenly disappears-without explanation. And then, months later, just as suddenly, he reappears. He'd enlisted in the AEF, he tells the bewildered Arbuckles, been shipped overseas to France, wounded there, and now, a civilian again, has a brand-new wife he wants the family to meet. Rita is sweet-natured and pretty, and the Arbuckles are warmly welcoming. As for Blake, he's overwhelmed, "engulfed" by her. For unsophisticated, bone-loyal Blake-a portrait rendered with particular sympathy-that simply means he's hers forever. All the portraits are convincingly drawn: the silent, drudgery-shaped father, theindomitable mother, the often contentious brothers-Blake aside-and, most vividly, the bleak, cruel land, making incessant and impossible demands on those who love it despite themselves. Prose pretty much stripped of graces remains useful for this unpretentious, involving story told with unfaltering authority.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Firts Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.86(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Fall 1916

The windows of the old Model T rattled as the mail truck bounced along the winding gravel road from Belle Fourche, South Dakota, to Albion, Montana. It was well past midnight, and I tried to sleep, but my head bonked against the window each time I dozed, until it felt as if I'd grown a corner on my forehead. There was also the matter of Annie Ketchal, the driver, who loved to talk. When I saw that Annie was the driver that night, I cringed, because I knew I wouldn't get much sleep. Because of her job, she knew everyone, and not only did she know them, but she had a gift for finding out more about them than anyone else knew. At the age of fourteen, I usually found the information she passed on interesting, and sometimes even shocking, but on this night I simply wasn't interested in lives outside of my own.

"Sorry about your brother Blake," she said after a few miles.

"Thanks, Mrs. Ketchal," I answered, feeling my jaw tighten, my lower teeth settling against the upper.

My heart seemed to press against my chest, as if a strong hand had a firm grip on it, squeezing it tightly, telling it, "Don't beat... don't you dare beat." And I knew as sure as anything that this pain would never go away. I thought I would feel this bad for the rest of my life. My fourteen years hadn't taught me that you feel this kind of pain sometimes, and that although it may never completely disappear, it does fade. And if anyone had tried to explain that to me then, I would have silently told them to shut up and leave me alone, to let meget a little sleep. Just as I now silently wished that Annie Ketchal, as friendly as she was, would be quiet and let me and my struggling heart be.

I had been standing at the blackboard doing a math problem when the telegram arrived. I was an eighth-grader, just beginning my second year at the Belle Fourche School, fifty miles from the ranch. I boarded with an older couple during the week and caught the mail truck home most weekends to help with the harvest, or haying, or feeding the stock.

Brother George drowned in river.

read the telegram. My mother's words, as always, would never pass for poetry, but it told me everything I needed to know.

I gave the telegram to my teacher, and standing there as she read it, my mind reviewed all of the immediate concerns of a fourteen-year-old boy. First, I knew that I would be going home immediately. And I knew that there was a good chance that I wouldn't be coming back. I thought about the dollar a day I could earn if I stayed home, and wondered what I might be able to save up for. And I felt a certain sense of relief about not coming back, because in the year and change that I'd been in Belle Fourche, I had never adjusted to life in town. I didn't like the pace. I spent most of my time in the classroom wishing I was sitting on a horse in the middle of a broad pasture. I couldn't keep my mind on the books in front of me, especially when the sun was shining. And although I did well in school, I never felt the same satisfaction from getting a test with a big blue A on it as I did from stepping back and admiring a stack of hay I'd just pitched, or pulling the forelegs of a calf, watching it slosh to the ground and shake its moist head, ears flopping. At my core, I relished the thought of going home.

What I did not think about in the moment was that my life would completely change with this news. I thought about George and his baseball, and how he could scoop a ground ball and whip it to first base with such fluid grace that it seemed as if he caught the ball in the middle of his throwing motion. But I guess I wasn't ready to think about the fact that I would never see him again.

So when the teacher asked me if I was okay, I nodded without hesitation, and it was true at that particular moment.

"All right," she said. "You go on ahead then."

So I walked to the boarders' house, told them the news, packed my bag, and caught the mail truck home. But after several hours in the truck, the reality started to penetrate. I remembered a day the previous winter -- an early morning when we were out feeding the stock. It was colder than hell that morning, and George, Jack, Dad, and I were doing whatever we could think of to keep warm, pounding our gloved hands together, running in place, working our jaws to keep the skin on our faces from freezing. George was talking, as he often did. He was talking about cattle, and sheep.

"People talk about how stupid animals are," George said, stomping his boots against the ground. "But just look at this. Every morning, we get up and come out here to feed these bastards, who aren't at all cold. We come out here and risk our lives to wait on these animals, and they're the stupid ones? I think we're the stupid ones. Not only that, but we paid money for these sons of bitches. We paid money for the privilege of waiting on these goddam animals."

He kept along in the same vein, a half grin on his face the whole time, and the rest of us were laughing so hard, we felt warmer than we had all morning. Even Jack, who usually had little tolerance for George's monologues, was laughing. It...

In Open Spaces. Copyright © by Russell Rowland. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

C. Michael Curtis
“In Open sage, humane, and immensely readable.”
C.J. Box
“Russell Rowland’s In Open Spaces is as good as it gets...a powerful book.”
Ha Jin
“Charged with dramatic tension — a joy to read.”

Meet the Author

Born in Bozeman, Russell Rowland is a fourth-generation Montanan. He served in the Navy, and has worked as a teacher, ranch hand, surveyor, lounge singer, and fortune-cookie writer. He lives in San Francisco.

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In Open Spaces 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is rare that an author captures what life was like in Eastern Montana during the Depression. Russ did a fantastic job of keeping my interest while at the same time educating the reader as to what life was like when my parents grew up in Eastern Montana. It's a great story. Some say too true to life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
We not only see Montana ranching in its routine, backbreaking life wrenching reality while letting the reader know of the beautiful country, the seasons and the animals that make this state special. The Arbuckle brothers their competition and rivalry are so clearly portrayed. Blake sees all but is yet naive. An excellent read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book. Great descriptions of Montana, great characters, good twists in the plot, and very emotional. I reccomend this book to any reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although the author describes the setting of Montana beautifully, the story is very boring and depressing. An easy read that is very predidible. I wouldn't have bought it except I had to read it for a college course. Don't waste your money.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just bought this on a whim and am happy I did. I grew up on a small farm in Ohio, much different than that in Montana, but could still see similarities in the communities and family. If you are looking for a great escape, to return to your roots, and to rekindle what it's like to really be human, this story will do it. I can't believe it sits so far down on BN's list of sellers!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful book. Think Harrison's LEGENDS OF THE FALL meets Haruf's PLAINSONG. I won't go into the plot of the book or flesh out the main characters, you can find that elsewhere for yourself. Just know that this books gets it right. All of it.