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An Unfinished Lifeby Mark Spragg
Synopses & Reviews
Hailed by Kent Haruf as "one of the truest and most original new voices in American letters," Mark Spragg now tells the story of a complex, prodigal homecoming.
Jean Gilkyson, pregnant when her husband was killed, is raising their daughter, Griff, in an Iowa trailer house with yet another brutal boyfriend when she realizes this can't go on. But the only refuge available is a town in Wyoming where her loved ones are dead and her father-in-law wishes she was too. For a decade he has blamed her for his son's death, choosing to go on living himself largely because his oldest friend otherwise couldn't survive. Bound as close as brothers, they face old age on a faltering ranch, their interdependence even more acute after one was crippled and the other mauled by his own pain. Suddenly Griff meets this grandfather she'd never heard about, not to mention a black cowboy confined to the bunkhouse, and irrepressibly claims her new life in hopes of turning grievous loss and recrimination toward reconciliation and love.
Immediately compelling and constantly surprising, rich in character, landscape, and compassion, An Unfinished Life shows a novelist of extraordinary talents at the height of his power.
"An old rancher reluctantly takes in his daughter-in-law and granddaughter in this moving and well-crafted, if rather derivative, second novel by Spragg (The Fruit of Stone). Jean Gilkyson hasn't been back to her hometown of Ishawooa, Wyo., since her husband, Griffin, died in a car accident. Jean was driving, and Griffin's father, Einar, has never forgiven her for his son's death. Ten years and four boyfriends later, Jean has run out of money and options. With her precocious nine-year-old daughter, Griff, she escapes boyfriend number four, a smirking brute named Roy. Einar isn't happy to see mother or daughter, but Griff loves his log house and ranch life. She makes friends right away with Mitch, Einar's old Vietnam War buddy, who's been mauled by a grizzly and is horribly scarred, and gradually wins over her grandfather. Meanwhile, Jean is charming the town sheriff, which comes in handy when Roy tracks her down. Spragg's spare storytelling is rock solid, but he covers well-worn territory in language familiar to readers of Cormac McCarthy and Kent Haruf, never quite striking off on his own." Agent, Nancy Stauffer Cahoon. Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Spragg draws wonderful portraits....Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Each word counts for more than it says in this achingly beautiful story of courage and endurance. Spragg belongs in the same category with such tough-and-tender western writers as William Kittredge, Ivan Doig, and Larry Watson." Booklist (Starred Review)
"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
"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
"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
"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
“One of the truest and most original new voices in American letters,” as Kent Haruf has written, Mark Spragg now tells the story of a complex, prodigal homecoming.
Jean Gilkyson is floundering in a trailer house in Iowa with yet another brutal boyfriend when she realizes this kind of life has got to stop, especially for the sake of her daughter, Griff. But the only place they can run to is Ishawooa, Wyoming, where Jean’s loved ones are dead and her father-in-law, the only person who could take them in, wishes that she was too. For a decade, Einar Gilkyson has blamed her for the accident that took his son’s life, and he has chosen to go on living himself largely because his oldest friend couldn’t otherwise survive. They’ve been bound together like brothers since the Korean War and now face old age on a faltering ranch, their intimacy even more acute after Mitch was horribly crippled while Einar helplessly watched.
Of course, ten-year-old Griff knows none of this–only that her father is dead and her mother has bad taste in men. But once she encounters this grandfather she’d never heard about, and the black cowboy confined to the bunkhouse, with irrepressible courage and great spunk she attempts to turn grievous loss, wrath, and recrimination–to which she’s naturally the most vulnerable–toward reconciliation and love.
Immediately compelling and constantly surprising, rich in character, landscape, and compassion, An Unfinished Life shows a novelist of extraordinary talents in the fullness of his powers.
About the Author
Mark Spragg is the author of Where Rivers Change Direction, a memoir that won the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, and The Fruit of Stone, a novel. Both were top-ten Book Sense selections and have been translated into seven languages. He lives in Cody, Wyoming.
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