In a searing critique of the conflicts of identity, personal interest, and family loyalty, La Seur's novel is built upon the complex emotions that make us human. Set against Montana's vast open fields and skies, La Seur cleverly develops her main character, Anthony Fry, able to show the dramatic shifts in his attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. It's going on three years since Anthony last sa, his mother, Sarah, just before his 48-hour Greyhound ride to New York. Now Anthony is back in the small town of Hayden with Sarah and his erratic, truculent Uncle Neal, who holds sway over Sarah with an inexplicable mix of moral authority and latent animosity.
Anthony has accepted a job overseeing a summer camp program at the Town Hall Theater in Billings. He finds himself resenting the surveillance network of Hayden, this "ranch country," and the way his family has kept a finger on him across hundreds of miles of open country. La Seur carefully unleashes a series of events that challenge Anthony as he finds the courage to see himself as a strong, independent man who must either choose to overlook his family's betrayal in order to keep the farm or give up all he has and knows.
In New York, Anthony was so hemmed in and claustrophobic "that he became part of the scenery." He also became heavier from stress-eating and drinking, "getting thick around the middle.' Until now, Anthony's father, Dean, has played in influential role in his life. He and Sarah and Neal are all freed by Dean's death. Still, he remains plagued by dreams that Dean's spirit walks, "far too ornery to lie still," like ghost spreading throughout the community "like a cool mist."
The Frys have worked hard, and their toils have all the trappings of a good life, but it is not enough. The past haunts them. Although the police ruled Dean's death an accident, Anthony questions the original investigation--and also Neal's role in it. How could a rider like Dean die alone and with a brother he'd feuded with most of his life? Had there even been a real enquiry? Young camp student Brittany saw his father one morning while she was out riding. He had on his old crumpled hat, the sun. Growing up at the edge of Indian country, Aathony has learned from various tribes that spirits wander. Brittany's vision leads Anthony to suspect there's a threat to the Fry ranch and that some crime was committed against his father.
This tight-knit farm community is judgmental and wary of Harmony Coal, which wants to mine through the Fry land despite Dean's objections. Neal, however, hopes the company's buy-out will allow Sarah to buy any piece of land she wants. Anthony recalls the chill of fear he felt in the presence of Rick Burlington, Harmony's local representative. He'd been drunk and wrong-footed and worried about theatre funding. To Rick, Anthony is just another pawn on a chessboard, another resident of Haydon who he can easily manipulate. Anthony remembers the liquid lunch with Rick and "the echo of undefined fear."
As Anthony's emotional scaffolding is exposed, we see the novel's true potential: the tale of a yearning, frustrated man who will fight for what he believes. Anthony still holds a flame for Hilary, his intellectual soulmate who, like Icarus, has also flown too close to the flames: "I didn't want Dad to be the reason I left New York. But I couldn't have held out much longer." Hilary tells Anthony that he has a great heart for people. She lights up his hope, inviting him to come out to the Bay Area so that he can meet some people in the theatre scene. A passionate, loyal supporter, Hilary tries to restore the timeline of those days when she first arrived in Montana. Anthony himself seems to doomed to wander "like a ghost," fated to minister to the grief of his best friend, Chance. Anthony's turmoil is central to the story; he's a man who loves theatre and his family but is unable to find a niche within either one. It doesn't help that Neal deliberately provokes him, ranting and raving over his nephew's disloyalty while Sarah shows nothing more than a half-hearted, "treacly, maternal concern."
Writing in the poetic style of Tracy Letts and Sam Shepard, (La Seur actually references both throughout the book), this is a gorgeously written, classic American tale shaped around life's trials and disappointments. The years of Anthony's bitterness have become an empty slate on which a different sort of life could have played out. Are people born with darkness in them, or do they receive it from others like "a diabolical assignment?" Anthony has to figure this out as he stumbles headfirst into a strained conflagration in which family loyalties are pitted against his own personal yearnings.