Winter Range

Claire Davis, Author
Claire Davis, Author Picador USA $23 (262p) ISBN 978-0-312-26140-5
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 978-0-312-27169-5
Paperback - 262 pages - 978-0-312-28425-1
Paperback - 313 pages - 978-1-57490-558-8
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-4299-0341-7
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Both breaking up and growing up are hard to do, learns Phoebe Fine, the protagonist of Rosenfeld's engaging, nostalgic and sometimes frustrating first novel. Each chapter is devoted to a man who has captured Phoebe's attention, affection and occasionally her heart, between the ages of 10 and 25, starting with ""Robert Mancuso, or `The Stink Bomb King of Fifth Grade.'"" Young Phoebe, the intellectually--if not socially--precocious daughter of two professional classical musicians, is sassy and sympathetic in the amusing early chapters. But once she enters college, romance shows its darker sides, and Phoebe's desire to be loved takes its toll on her self-esteem. She develops eating disorders and suffers lapses of judgment in her amorous encounters; she has an affair with a married professor, and succumbs emotionally to a number of cads. ""At the age of 20,"" Rosenfeld writes, ""men had become the centerpiece of her life."" After graduation, Phoebe moves to New York and dabbles in promiscuity to prove the power of her beauty, only to learn that ""being beautiful wasn't nearly enough."" Her search for self, fulfillment and true love goes on, though she's far too cynical to find anything but moments of clarity and fleeting bliss. Rosenfeld's style is direct and often witty, and the plot device is intriguing. The reader gets to know Phoebe as she interacts with her love interests; as she tests her mettle, she learns who she is, even if she doesn't quite like who she's become. But it's exasperating to watch Phoebe the wise, funny girl grows into Phoebe the insecure woman who mistrusts her own heart. First serial to the New Yorker. (Sept.) WINTER RANGE Claire Davis. Picador USA, $23 (272p) ISBN 0-312-26140-3 ~ The New West is the setting for an old-fashioned power struggle in Davis's entrancing debut. Sheriff Ike Parsons, 42 and married to fiery redhead Pattiann, patiently patrols a small Montana town whose cattle outnumber its residents. Pattiann, who always loved the ranching life, was reluctant to settle into her role as a townie's wife, and is bitter over her father's decision to pass on the family ranch to her younger brother. It seems a modern Western woman is powerless, except in the sexual realm, which Pattiann discovered as a rebellious, promiscuous teen. Chas Stubblefield was one of the many boys she drunkenly coupled with in her youth, and 16 years later, when Chas comes to her for sympathy, she fools herself into thinking that she and the down-and-out rancher might still strike sparks. A lonely bachelor, Chas lacks business savvy, and can't afford enough feed for his livestock during a particularly harsh winter. Compassionate (but ignorant of Chas's past with Pattiann), Ike offers to help Chas, fully expecting the stubborn, explosive man to swallow his pride. Chas's situation is indeed horrifying: his cattle are already dead or starving, and bankrupt Chas lives off the meat. Ike conceives a plan to mercy-kill the surviving animals, provoking Chas, now helpless to stop the law from taking everything he owns, to settle the score, even if it means hurting the woman he loves. Crisp details establish place and characters with authoritative clarity. As the characterization deepens, so do the suspense and the reader's empathy for decent people trapped by human flaws and fate. The narrative, moving surefootedly toward its denouement, raises serious questions about the law, love and ethics in a tough rural community. With prose as crystalline and clean as snow on the Montana prairie, Davis establishes herself as a writer to watch. Author tour. (Sept.)
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