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ON THE NIGHT PLAIN

J. Robert Lennon, Author . Holt/Macrae $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6722-4

The brutally hard life of sheep ranchers on the Great Plains just after WWII provides the heartbeat of Lennon's brooding third novel. As in his 1997 debut, The Light of Shooting Stars, Lennon laconically records the punishing hardships of the Western landscape, counterbalanced by the open skies that, one characters says, have "ruined us for any other kind of life." From the start, doom and ruin hang over the Person family. Three of the six sons of John and Asta Person are fated to die young. A fourth, Thornton, is killed in WWII, and Grant, the brother whose place Thornton took in the draft, bolts from the ranch and labors on a fishing trawler for three years. Meanwhile, his brother Max assumes his responsibilities and his mother dies; when Grant finally returns, he discovers that his father has taken off for parts unknown. A bitter and resentful Max then leaves, too, for New York, to paint. Grant copes with a mountain of debts, a sickly flock and elderly ranch hands. Lonely, taciturn and racked by guilt, Grant exists in a dour, gray world defined by monotonous labor and hard-bitten men. When Max returns with a young woman, Sophia, love suddenly erupts in Grant, presaging sibling rivalry and a dramatic denouement. While Grant's intensely inward personality and his existence on life's "chill periphery," may initially alienate the reader, Lennon artfully heightens the emotional temperature with Grant's recurrent, prefiguring dream of a dead man he saw in Atlantic City. Fiercely realistic descriptions suffuse Lennon's prose: "gulls dangled overhead, tufted and greasy like dead wool"; "the cod's caustic eye twitching against the caustic air." The result is a terse and haunting story that speaks of the inescapable bonds of blood, the ineluctable hold of the land and the healing powers of work and solitude. (Aug. 8)

Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
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FORMATS
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-312-42086-4
Ebook - 246 pages - 978-1-4804-4889-6
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-86207-499-6
Hardcover - 246 pages - 978-1-86207-466-8
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