A heartbreaking, beautifully wrought masterpiece of devastating loss & questioned faith, of earned trust & unbreakable friendship. Ron Carlson’s unerring command of language sweeps over you with its beauty and subtlety – there’s something about his voice that utterly compels you to listen, to heed every word he has to say. Even the most seemingly innocent, almost insignificant narrative incidents bear the immeasurable weight of Life on their shoulders. You can feel the mass of the Idaho sky above you and see the chasm of red rock canyon and hear the lyrical sounds of the river below. Sentences like:
“The sky was an amorphous glaring canopy, and the horizons were all tattered in such bright haze”
just don’t occur in common fiction. I found myself marking passages just because I liked the way the words rolled off the page into my lap:
“…the wind was steady and even as if it were a permanent feature of the desert around them, the sparse sage and periodic igneous cairns of porous red cinders.”
Even the general plotline is relatively innocuous – three men get together to spend a summer living & working atop a barren plateau in southern Idaho, building a motorcycle stunt ramp aimed out over an enormous red rock canyon. The building of this ridiculous stunt ramp almost cheapens the work they do there; no one is more aware of this than the men. But the work is all part of a process for each man, whether they are aware of it or not. Each is fleeing hardship and pain in their lives: Darwin, the foreman, lost his wife in a tragic accident & the last place he feels he wants to be is where he actually finds himself. Ronnie is young, foolish, fresh out of juvie and trying to fly straight for as long as he can. And Arthur Key is running from his brother’s recent death, which he places all the blame for solely on his own broad shoulders. It may sound sappy coming from me, but when these men begin to trust each other and each of their work abilities on the site, they each begin to work inward on their own and heal their own wounds. Watching the transformation process of these characters, these men, in the hands of Mr. Carlson is unlike anything I can recall reading. Its always hard to compare books that you like with each other – I find myself reading different genres for different reasons, different authors for different reasons. But in the last year, the books that have affected me the most have been The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which left me shattered and weeping with its portrait of the impending bleak future of humanity, and this one, which explores themes of friendship, loyalty, the bonds of men, and the inner workings of their souls. But more than anything, this just made me understand what it means to be a great writer.
“Take a deep breath. The world still waits.”