Ike Parsons is the sheriff of a small Montana town, with a reputation for fairness, common sense, and kindness. When he hears that Chas Stubblefield has fallen on hard times in the bitter winter, he heads out to the rancher's spread to offer assistance. What Ike finds shocks him to his core: cattle starving in the snow or freezing where they stand, and a brooding Stubblefield near bankruptcy, living off the meat of his dying herd, too proud to accept help.
Stubblefield is the heir of an old Montana family; Ike, a Wisonsin native, came west to marry the daughter of another rancher. As sheriff, Ike is something of an outsider, caught between one rancher's rights and the larger law of the community. His attempt to help backfires, and Ike is troubled to learn that Chas is gathering support in town among people who believe that a man's land and property are his to use as he chooses. But Ike does not know that the rancher is planning revenge, a plot that will target Ike's wife Pattiann-a woman with a past her husband does not fully understand, a past in which Chas Stubblefield figured intimately.
An absolutely gripping novel, Winter Range portrays a town in crisis: a debut that is fast paced as a thriller, evocative of broad, spare places and changeable weather, and wise in the relations of men, women, and families.
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To say Winter Range is a Montana book is to understate the matter entirely. Winter Range is in fact a perfect reflection of the state itself: big and empty. Claire Davis's ultimately unsatisfying story has a nugget of plot at its center that's plenty fascinating. Good old boy Chas Stubblefield can't seem to make a go of it on the ranch his daddy left to him. He's gone bust, it's the dead of winter, and the starving cattle are dropping in the field like great big flies. Which, as it happens, is a crime in the state of Montana. The novel's protagonist, Sheriff Ike Parsons, has to figure out how to handle this potentially explosive situation. The problem is, Chas is a local, and Ike is a newcomer: neighboring ranchers are likely to close ranks. Another problem is that Chas loves Ike's wife, Pattiann. And the third problem is that the author doesn't trust her material. What could have been a taut thriller of cows and unrequited love has become a meditative snooze as endless as the Montanan winter. Davis constantly delves into her characters' family histories to explain their actions: these are details best left in an author's notebooks. It's admirable that Davis has dreamed up how Pattiann's grandparents met and fell in love. But she doesn't convey their story with any liveliness--these background checks feel like Davis's rote enactment of character motivation. She doubts (rightly) that she's brought Pattiann to life, so she throws a lot of information at us to prove Pattiann's existence.
Which is too bad, because Davis is capable of very nice sentences. About a spring dawn: "Everything about this morning said soon." And Ike is a genuinely appealing character: his position as an outsider subverts a lot of sheriff mythology. As his wife, Pattiann, muses, "He was too human for his job. But of course, that's what made him right for it." If only Davis would trust her readers to believe it, rather than trotting out Ike's family tree to convince us. --Claire DedererFrom the Back Cover:
"Winter Range re-creates the heartbreak and quiet joy of life on the snowbound prairie of eastern Montana with an authenticity that is pure gold. Claire Davis's novel is one of the very, very best ever written about Montana." (Mary Clearman Blew, author of Sister Coyote: Montana Stories)
"The beauty of Davis's language reawakens us to the magical possibilities contained in the simplest of words." (Kim Barnes, author of Hungry for the World: A Memoir)
"This original novel introduces Gothic to the high plains of the modern west. Claire Davis is a fine writer and Winter Range will keep you glued to the edge of your seat." (James Welch, author of The Heartsong of Charging Elk)
"In vibrant language, Davis offers a darker vision of modern cattle ranching, where lost opportunities, isolation, greed, and self-pity can too easily degenerate into self-justifying irresponsibility and violence. An interesting examination of the complexities of our relationship to those upon whom we depend most for our survival." (Laura Hendrie, author of Remember Me)
"Winter Range is absolutely engrossing, a vivid thriller and a look into the degree of absorbed selfishness which results in merciless conduct. I stayed up all night with this one." (William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky)
"Winter Range moves with an elemental force....Her writing has tensile strength, a quirky grace, a wise humor. Claire Davis is an important new voice in the literature of the American West." (David Long, author of The Daughters of Simon Lamoreaux)
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