ACROSS OPEN GROUND
A young Idaho sheep herder meets the girl of his dreams just as events conspire to part them in Parkinson's lyrical, evocative debut novel, whose "echoes of Cormac McCarthy" (in the words of her publisher) sometimes sound closer to fond imitations. Walter Pascoe is a quiet, naïve smalltown 17-year-old who signs on with a local rancher in 1917. Despite his inexperience, Pascoe quickly learns the ropes and finds his calling. He struggles romantically when he's smitten by—but afraid to approach—comely young trapper Trina Ivy. Despite their shyness, the two manage to come together just as Walter gets drafted to serve in WWI. When Ivy realizes she's pregnant as Pascoe gets ready to depart, she elects to hide the news from him. Ironically, the brutality that Pascoe experiences in combat has a harsh parallel in Trina's life, when her stepfather and another rancher attack her, jeopardizing her pregnancy and foretelling a difficult reunion when Pascoe returns from his military ordeal. Parkinson's homage to McCarthy is especially graceful and poignant in her writing about the land, sheep herding and the animals, although the romantic passages are less compelling and her work lacks the moral weight that defined McCarthy's greatness. The narrative is often powerful, however, with a concern for female characters and a tenderness generally absent from more conventional books about this era in the American West. (May)
Forecast:This is a promising start for Parkinson, and Bloomsbury is giving her quite a push (national author tour, national advertising), but she'll have to establish her own literary identity to succeed in subsequent efforts.