An Unfinished Life

The best Western writing has the clarity of sunlight on mountain peaks, the sculptured exactness of bone and old wood. Consider the opening sentence of this novel, which begins with a man taking a sauna at night in a hand-hewn sweat shack on a Wyoming ranch: “The sapwood snaps and shifts in the low-bellied stove, and the heat swells up against the roofboards and weathered fir planking, and the whole small building seems to groan.” Mark Spragg’s elegant, spare prose tells a moving story of love and loss and forgiveness. With her precocious 10-year-old daughter Griff in tow, Jean Gilkyson flees an abusive trailer-park boyfriend in Iowa and returns to her small Wyoming hometown to live with her father-in-law, who has never been able to forgive her for the auto accident a decade earlier that killed the man who was his son, her husband and Griff’s father. The characters are sharply drawn, the emotions are real and recognizable, and Spragg’s writing is as sharply etched as the Wyoming landscape. Look for the movie version, directed by Lasse Hallström, in theaters soon.