cover image Fencing the Sky

Fencing the Sky

James Galvin. Henry Holt & Company, $23 (258pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6220-5

True to form, this post-Cormac McCarthy western by first-time novelist, poet and nonfiction writer (The Meadow) Galvin is heavy on biblical cadences, macho philosophy and metaphor. Land developer Merriweather Snipes likes to harass cattle in his off-road vehicle, and when he is murdered in the act, lassoed around the neck by cattle owner Mike Arans, none of his Larimer County, Colo., neighbors mourns his death. By selling acreage that used to be ranch land to suburbanites looking for country homes, Snipes had already made himself extremely unpopular with the recently widowed Mike , Mike's neighbor Oscar Rose and Snipes's own neighbor Doctor Adkisson Trent. The disrespectful newcomers bring with them traffic, ignorance of water and range use, and hoodlum children. So Snipes's murder is considered more of a lucky accident by the county's original inhabitants, who help Mike escape. The story follows a double track. On one side it trails Mike as he slips down paths in the National Forest, pursued by Apache tracker and Vietnam vet Jim Thomas. Alternately, Galvin provides a series of micro-histories of the decline of ranching culture, as exemplified in the lives of Ad and Oscar, who are native to the country, and Mike, who migrated as a hippie refugee in the '70s. Galvin's prose tries for some combination of the laconic and the sublime, but too often devolves into such imprecise lyricism as ""His laugh was like a school bus, big, capricious, bright."" Still, the patchwork quality of the narrative serves the story well, and the author's vision of a new American West populated by a motley collection of old-timers and newcomers rings true. In its more relaxed moments, the novel gives readers a worthwhile glimpse of the small-scale rancher's endangered world. Regional author tour. (Oct.)