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Burning Fence: A Western Memoir of Fatherhoodby Craig Lesley
Synopses & Reviews
In Burning Fence, acclaimed novelist Craig Lesley turns his keen eye toward two difficult fathers and an alcohol-damaged Indian foster child, Craig's own "son," Wade. Abandoned by his shell-shocked father, Rudell, Craig grew up with his stepfather, Vern, a tough, controlling railroader. When events turned nasty, Craig, his mother, and his baby sister fled on the night train and arrived at an Indian reservation where his mother found work. Decades later, convinced he would be a better father than Rudell or Vern, Craig takes in the troubled Wade.
But desperation over Wade's violent acts motivates Craig to seek out Rudell in remote Monument, Oregon. Craig hopes his father, a reclusive coyote trapper and poacher, will help raise his disturbed grandson. There Craig meets his colorful half-brother, Ormand, a would-be East Coast hit man, now "born again."
Skillfully capturing the rural humor, rugged characters, and hardscrabble life of Eastern Oregon, Burning Fence presents a searing reflection on fatherhood and offers remarkable insight into the landscape of the Western heart.
"'Tricky business, fathers and sons,' writes novelist Lesley (Stormriders) in this magnificent memoir of growing up in the 1950s in a hardscrabble American family. Lesley tells a gut-wrenching story of betrayal, abandonment and redemption. His father, Rudell, left the family when Lesley was a young boy, and his mother struggled to make ends meet, traveling from town to town around central Oregon seeking 'a fresh start' and usually finding disappointment and heartbreak. Lesley persevered, however, excelling in school, attending college and finding a career teaching. Perhaps seeking atonement for his father's sins, Lesley took in a Native American boy. Later diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, the boy proved more than Lesley could handle and was eventually sent to a foster home. Lesley renders subtle, compassionate portraits of the people in his life: his cruel stepfather, 'quiet in a threatening way'; his uncle Oscar, 'the kind of straightforward, stand-up guy a small town relies on'; and his half-brother, who 'didn't get the calling to be a minister until after the devil tempted him to be a hit man.' Try as he might, Lesley could not escape the pull of his father. Even after his mother made him promise to stay clear of Rudell, Lesley sought him out, turning to him in a last-ditch effort to save his desperately troubled adopted son. Tavern brawler, prospector, elk hunter, fence builder, Rudell burned with down-market charisma and drew Lesley to him. Never mawkish or sentimental, Lesley's work makes something beautiful from the wreckage of a tumble-down family. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Craig Lesley has been justly celebrated for his novels. Now this vivid, unflinching story of his own life, as a son and as a father, can only serve to increase his already considerable stature as a writer — and, not incidentally, as a human being." Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong
"I experienced Craig Lesley's Burning Fence as an addiction of sorts — everything else in my life got pushed off to the side so I could live in its pages. And I've stayed haunted by it, a product of its honest emotions and its honest prose. This memoir should expand Craig's audience and deepen the appreciation his current readers feel; it informs all the novels that precede it, but stands on its own as a seminal work of Western literature." David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars and Our Lady of the Forest
"Craig Lesley has long been one of my favorite novelists. Now, with Burning Fence, he has written an extraordinary memoir that shows the wonderful latitude of his writing skills and, not incidentally, speaks to the remarkable depth of the life experience that has informed his novels. This is a splendid work, beautifully told and deeply moving." Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize?winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
"With the redoubtable storytelling skill that powers his memorable novels, Craig Lesley now takes us into the haunting central drama of his own life. His wry survivor's-eye view of a father and a stepfather who were not up to the task, and of his own gallant compensatory attempt to pull a foster son from the depths of fetal alcohol syndrome, is family drama of the highest order." Ivan Doig, author of This House of Sky
"Beyond the legends of the West and the fables of fatherhood, Craig Lesley's beautiful memoir, Burning Fence, comes forward with one man's personal truth. This memoir takes an unflinching look at three generations of men as they struggle with the tensions between fathers and sons and what it takes to create — and un-make — a family amid the macho mythos of the West. Lesley's lucid, compelling storyteller's voice recalls that of writers like Kent Haruf and Mark Spragg. One of his bravest and truest works to date." Diana Abu-Jaber, author of The Language of Baklava and Crescent
"What an amazingly generous and haunting memoir this is! Craig Lesley has given us a book that is as powerful as it is precise — a work that is somehow restrained and yet abundant. This book must be rationed, it is so powerful." Rick Bass, author of The Diezmo
"Burning Fence is at once deeply moving, nightmarish on almost every level, and — I can't figure it out myself — extraordinarily funny in the goofiest of all ways. In other words, a quintessential tale of Fatherhood in Crazy America." Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life
"Burning Fence is a vividly realized country memoir. Craig Lesley is intimate with denied ambitions, the heartbreak of living poor and out of the loop in rural America, and the cracked humor with which the disenfranchised so often respond. If you want to understand what's going on in the backlands of our nation, begin by reading this." William Kittredge, author of The Nature of Generosity and The Best Short Stories of William Kittredge
"Lesley never succumbs to the temptation of creating pure heroes or villains. These people are as raw and real as a rare elk heart bleeding on the plate." Booklist
A memoir of startling emotion and grace, Burning Fence is the story of the men in Craig Lesley's family: absent father, Rudell, tough stepfather, Vern, adopted son, Wade, and Craig Lesley himself. Their story is one of hardship, violence, and cautious, heartbreaking attempts toward compassion. Lesley's fearless journey through his family history provides a remarkable portrait of hard living in the Western states, and confirms his place as one of the region's very best storytellers.
About the Author
Craig Lesley received the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award for The Sky Fisherman, Winterkill, and Talking Leaves. He teaches at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
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