Family drama / Western
This extraordinary novel was selected for the finals of the 2015 Historical Fiction New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, and rightly so. Set in the old ‘Wild West’, it includes many of the stock elements of a popular western, a make-shift, alcohol-fuelled gold-mining town, a flawed sheriff, a noble Indian, and a kind-hearted mother doing her best for her children, but it is so much more than this.
Essentially, this is a novel about the human condition: family and loyalty, our loves and woes, our tensions and prejudices. Characters are nuanced and so real they walk off the page. The location is described in such well-chosen, poetic brushstrokes I felt I was there.
The story itself is that Esther Corbin, a woman whose life becomes irrevocably entangled with that of two men, an aged Navajo named Rubén Santiago, who was stolen from his tribe as a child and raised as a God-fearing Roman Catholic, and a rough-looking fugitive with a price on his head. Initially, Esther fears these intruders on her property but then, due to a series of unpredictable circumstances, she allows them to use her farmstead and even nurses Morgan Braddock, the fugitive, back to health.
Beautifully written, scenes of domestic life in very challenging conditions are interlaced with strange, spirit-world encounters. There is the normal banter and deceitfulness of growing children and a coyote whose tears form nuggets of gold; there are violent, heartless confrontations between men in uniform and supposedly renegade Indians, and moments of tender grown-up emotion. Grady Cox shows her readers how difficult, not to say dangerous, it must have been to raise a family in Territorial Arizona during the nineteenth century. She also gives us both a heart-rending and a heart-warming love story between older people. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Definitely a Discovered Diamond.
© J.G. Harlond