A sober reading by Amendola and Marx fits the slow pacing of Spragg's newest offering (following The Fruit of Stone), which uses spare, beautiful language to tell a tale of hardship, resentment and reconciliation in smalltown Wyoming. Both veteran narrators give strong performances, though Amendola does a better job than Marx in personifying the book's more idiosyncratic characters-such as the crippled cowboy, Mitch, or the spunky, nine-year-old Griff Gilkyson. A few aspects of the production seem out of sync, however. For one, the ominous music that introduces and concludes each disc is too heavy for the subject matter. It conveys a sense of impeding doom that would be more appropriate in a thriller or even a tale of imminent tragedy, rather than this ultimately hopeful story of tried but tender human relationships. The decision to use two readers also seems unnecessary, as the unpredictable shifts between narrators at chapter breaks shake the listener out of the story. Overall, the recording would have benefited from a simpler approach, but it still offers a stirring look at the importance of individual conflicts and emotions. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Forecasts, Aug. 9). (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
This novel has been called a modern Western, but it is far more than that. When Jean, a 30-year-old widow with a 10-year-old daughter, Grif, is once again forced to leave a battering boyfriend, they set out to the only place they can go after their money runs out and their car breaks downback to her husband's father's ranch. Her father-in-law still believes that Jean was responsible for the car crash that killed his son, but he slowly warms to the granddaughter he didn't know he had. Grif, forever longing for a place to belong, finds solace in her quiet, reticent grandfather and his best friend Mitch, a black man he served with in the war and who now lies in pain after a brutal bear attack. Grif wheedles her way into their hearts and the story climaxes in a made-for-the-movies ending. Grif is the strong young girl character who seems to take care of her mother as much as her mother takes care of her, but the story is not sentimental or stereotypical. Some strong language and semi-graphic scenes make this unsuitable for the youngest middle schoolers, but high school students will appreciate this story. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Random House, Vintage, 257p., Ages 15 to adult.
"An unfinished life" adorns the gravestone of Griffin Gilkyson (1972-93). We never meet Griffin, but his life-or, to be more accurate, his death-infuses every page of Spragg's masterly second novel (after The Fruit of Stone). If Griffin had not died, his wife, Jean, wouldn't be jumping from man to man to man and finally running away from No. 4. With nowhere else to go, Jean and her nine-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Griff, make their way to Ishawooa, WY, home of her father-in-law, Einar. If Griffin were alive, maybe Einar wouldn't hate Jean and maybe his best friend, Mitch, wouldn't have been mauled by a grizzly bear. (Now Einar must inject Mitch each morning with morphine.) And if Griffin were alive, Griff would have known she had a grandfather. Spragg draws wonderful portraits, particularly of the old men and of this strong, young girl who doesn't want to make too much noise and anger the adults. Griff becomes the salve, the linchpin that secures her mother and grandfather to a place of acceptance and in so doing discovers her own place in the world. A film from Miramax is scheduled for December. Highly recommended for general fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/04.]-Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Reviews of Mark Spragg's An Unfinished Life"Ever since I became the books editor at The Kansas City Star in March 2000, folks have been asking me to recommend a reading experience as clean and sharp as Kent Haruf's Plainsong. . . . Finally, I have an answer. His name is Mark Spragg, his new novel is An Unfinished Life." –John Mark Eberhart, The Kansas City Star"Spragg writes in the man's man literary school of Hemingway and Tom McGuane, where valor, brevity and minor epiphanies still count for something, yet An Unfinished Life's strength lies in its characters. It's best one is the irrepressible little girl, Griff, barely beating out the two old coots, bitter Einar and handicapped Mitch, who talk with winning honesty while struggling through their ablutions and medical ministrations. . . . An Unfinished Life makes you yearn for more of these characters and their prescient talk." –The Oregonian
"Wyoming, its winds and distances, never quits. What a pleasure it is to watch a few of its hard-forged citizens stay with the task of forgiving, cherishing and caring for one another. Mark Spragg has got the territory dead right in this moving testimony to seeing things through." –William Kittredge"Spragg, with consummate skill, uses people and places we don't know to teach us something about ourselves. He explores human bonds, the difficulty of core change and ultimately the need for forgiveness if a person is to be emotionally whole. . . . An Unfinished Life is a deft contemplation of completion, of change and of coming home." –The Denver Post"Intensely human, gently probing the longing for family and the inescapable grip of the past. Swiftly shifting perspectives lend the novel a pleasing dynamism." –The Christian Science Monitor"Rich with ancillary characters worked into his elaborate plots. . . . When all the scattered elements of the story coalesce in strange and wondrous ways, so logical yet so unexpected, we are tempted to use a western idiom and state that Mark Spragg has put his brand on realistic Western novels in our time." –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“I can’t get more than a few pages into a novel unless the prose is good. In Mark Spragg’s An Unfinished Life the writing is of considerable grace and beauty, plus there’s a compelling tale of the New West which at times is an uncomfortable page turner where you are standing on the sidelines rooting for your heartbreaking favorites.” –Jim Harrison"Spragg has the remarkable ability to establish voices that feel indelibly genuine and true, yet belong to characters as different from each other as a sensitive and adventurous pre-pubescent girl, two aging ranchers ravaged by different kinds of pain, a confused and self-protective young mother and a man with a hair-trigger anger and a dangerously twisted concept of love, entitlement and family." –Santa Fe New Mexican"The tension lies in the interior life Spragg creates for his characters. They are believably raw and wounded. And, above all, redeemable." –New York Daily News"Mark Spragg invents characters that are as richly drawn and lovingly rendered as the landscape in which he sets them down. An Unfinished Life is honest, engaged, deeply satisfying, and full of an uncanny grace that resides both in the beauty of the language and in these valuable lives." –Pam Houston"An Unfinished Life has dysfunction and menace and clipped, big-sky dialogue that's as spare as Cormac McCarthy's work but with a warmer patina. The carefully placed story hides surprising flashes of humor inside telling detail." –USA Today"Packed with descriptive detail that pays tribute to Wyoming's harsh splendor, An Unfinished Life shows the power of place to save us." –The Boston Phoenix
"Mark Spragg's An Unfinished Life is a tremendously accomplished, elegantly written and paced tale of love and loss, the bonds of grief and blood, and the complex turnings of the human heart. This is a heartbreaking yet uplifting novel that is most deeply satisfying. These characters, these people, will remain with me a long, long time." –Jeffrey Lent"One of those once-in-a-blue-moon type novels that takes convention and stands it on its head. . . . Filled with often poetic meditations about the love we hold for those who have died--what sort of role their memories play in our lives--and the importance of laying the past to rest while moving into the future." –St. Petersburg Times "Masterly . . . Highly recommended."--Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal, starred review