A bucolic Montana setting is belied by Corey Henry’s final day at her rural school. The near-sixty teacher locks the classroom door one last time, riding her spirited horse the few miles home only to be confronted by the suicide of her father, Loren, his shotgun ringing out as brilliant red carpet of sunset breaks across the windshield of his truck. Stunned that her life could be so radically altered, Corey turns to her only solace, her painting.
Truly isolated in a place where her existence already bespeaks loneliness and filial duty, Corey Henry wanders about the property where she has spent most of her life, her only companion a decrepit old hound with days to live, utterly, completely alone with the ghosts of a regretful past. The opportunities of youth were ignored in an attempt to meet a taciturn old man’s demands.
What remains is the shabby detritus of old decisions, a rundown ranch with a few ponies and a dilapidated house stuffed with generations of receipts. Corey is forced to navigate an uncertain future. Her teaching career over the day she slaps an insolent student, Arial Doggett, Corey takes out the long-unused tools of her painting days at college, purchasing a few new tubes of paint and a canvas in retreat from reality.
Suddenly, Corey is aware of an unexpected presence. Ariel, having run away from home, lurks around the Henry family’s acres, living rough and stealing a few provisions from the house when Corey is absent. Corey tolerates Ariel’s presence, although she cannot fathom the girl’s attraction to her property, the two on opposite ends of the chronological spectrum, but strangely in sync in their isolation and need to escape, at least for a time.
Meanwhile, a sinister plot unfolds nearby, Ariel’s father plotting with his brother to colonize the land recently purchased as a haven from the prying eyes of society. Strange goings-on at the Doggett place attract the notice of the locals, although few can imagine what this man is really planning.
The inevitable chaos of Hailey Doggett’s master plan shatters the relative peace enjoyed by those who have lived and worked the land for generations, recently forced out by rising prices and the inability to maintain their small holdings against encroaching gentrification.
In Corey’s part of the world, the ranch, the horses and Loren’s idiosyncrasies are the parameters of a simple existence, days spent predictably and quietly. But Montana is decidedly under siege from outside interests, wealthy folks posed to take advantage of the locals. All too soon events transpire, forcing Corey to make decisions about the future, not the least of which is an unlikely romance.
Then there is the matter of Ariel Doggett, a child Corey comes to care for in a matter-of-fact manner, unused to complicated emotions and the challenges that lie ahead. Suddenly there is the unexpected bounty of choices, hints of a promising future.
In a paean to the Old West, Clearman Blew has created a unique portrait of loneliness, the price of independence and the strength of community, a theme as expansive as Montana and the eccentric characters who people this entertaining novel.