South of the Big Four

Don Kurtz, Author
Don Kurtz, Author Chronicle Books $15.95 (380p) ISBN 978-0-8118-0908-5
Paperback - 978-0-380-72765-0
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4521-3705-6
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In gracefully unencumbered prose that evokes isolation and loss, this first novel uses the story of two Indiana men in order to pay elegiac tribute to America's dwindling number of small farmers. At 30, narrator Arthur Conason chooses to live on the deserted property of his late father, a failed farmer, and work the fields for neighbor Gerry Maars. More successful than Arthur's dad was, the abrasive, resourceful Gerry displays a tenacity that Kurtz clearly means to be emblematic of people who are unable to loosen their ties to a way of life whose increasing hardships break both the heart and the wallet. Though the solitary Arthur keeps his distance from everyone, his relationship with Gerry deepens as he grows to see his employer as a surrogate father. Kurtz effectively portrays the rhythms and the socioeconomic facts of this threatened world, but he stumbles when addressing his characters' psychological or moral dilemmas. Their motivations remain unclear (e.g., we don't understand why Arthur drifts in and out of relationships with successive women, or why these women seek him out). But he does handle the novel's structure skillfully, seamlessly taking Arthur from the present to the past and back to the present as he struggles to come to terms with ``an ever more impatient world.'' (July)
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