By Mark Spragg
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307272751, 256pp.
Publication Date: March 9, 2010
Ishawooa, Wyoming, is far from bucolic nowadays. The sheriff, Crane Carlson, needs no reminder of this but gets one anyway when he finds a kid not yet twenty murdered in a meth lab. His other troubles include a wife who’s going off the rails with bourbon and pot, and his own symptoms of the disease that killed his grandfather.
Einar Gilkyson, taking stock at eighty, counts among his dead a lifelong friend, a wife and—far too young—their only child; and his long-absent sister has lately returned home from Chicago after watching her soul mate die. His granddaughter, Griff, has dropped out of college to look after him, though Einar would rather she continue with her studies and her boyfriend, Paul. Completing this extended family are Barnum McEban and his ward, Kenneth, a ten-year-old whose mother—Paul’s sister—is off marketing spiritual enlightenment.
What these characters have to contend with on a daily basis is bracing enough, involving car accidents, runaway children, strokes and Lou Gehrig’s disease, not to mention the motorcycle rallies and rodeos that flood the tiny local jail. But as their lives become even more strained, hardship foments exceptional compassion and generosity, and those caught in their own sorrow alleviate the same in others, changing themselves as they do so. In this gripping story, along with harsh truths and difficult consolation come moments of hilarity and surprise and beauty. No one writes more compellingly about the modern West than Mark Spragg, and in Bone Fire he is at the very height of his powers.
“A starkly beautiful portrait of the modern West. Spragg is an author with a keen eye for both the poetic splendors and ugly realities of this much-romanticized country.” —Joe Darda, The Globe and Mail (Canada)
“Teeming with loss, redemption and personal crisis [with] as compelling a sense of time and place as any in contemporary fiction.” —Christian Toto, The Denver Post
“About once in a decade a writer captures the unruly West, wrangles it onto the page somehow and holds it down with just the right words…[Mark Spragg] is infused with it.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
“A wonder to experience….The bone fire in question can be seens as a metaphor for the grief that burns in one's soul. That fire has the power to cause great pain but also, one is led to hope here, to heal.” —Tyrone Beason, The Seattle Times
“A serious pleasure….Spragg's Wyoming is quiet and beautiful and very real. He is a master at balancing minimalism with eloquent depth to paint a striking portrait of place.” —Susan Wickstrom, The Oregonian
“Essential reading for anyone interested in the literature of the West.” —Bill Ott, Booklist (starred review)
“A tribute to the human state and an outstanding work…Not one word is out of place, and each and every character is well drawn and intensely believable….This ‘bone fire’ is in fact the burning we call life, symbolizing our shared pain as human beings.” —Henry Bankhead, Library Journal (starred review)
“Spragg's writing is so lyrical yet so quiet. It's perfect for the characters that populate his stories, men and women who just like to get things done; people for whom a life of hard work and integrity is more than enough, it's what they strive for. These are people I know: they're like my father and his friends in Eastern Utah. Spragg's portrayals of the men and women of small town rural America feel true to me. He doesn't write romanticized drivel about times that never were, nor does he write one-dimensional portraits of lives that we in cities see all too often as narrow and restricted. The complicated decisions and paths that Crane, Griff, McEban, and young Kenneth must make and take in Bone Fire lead the reader through a literary tapestry that is both real and beautiful.” —Catherine Weller, Sam Wellers Bookstore (Salt Lake City, UT)
“When I received Mark Spragg’s new book, Bone Fire, I dropped everything. It was so refreshing and comforting to be back with these (mostly) lovable characters from his novel An Unfinished Life! Mark has such an amazing sense of place, and his small-town Wyoming ranch is so vivid, and right there. The fresh mountain air, horse sweat, smoldering fires; every sight, smell and sound is so real. Not to mention the close-knit sense of community, the troubled and desperate characters whose lives intersect in this compelling story of love, redemption and the importance of treasuring every moment of life. This is definitely a novel that stays with you.” —Linda Grana, Lafayette Book Store (Lafayette, CA)
“To have a new Mark Spragg novel in one’s hands is definitely one of life’s greatest pleasures. He knocks your socks off with his writing—lyrical, wonderfully descriptive—and his characters, set in modern-day Wyoming, come alive on the pages. In Bone Fire, we have the return of characters from Spragg’s An Unfinished Life and a 10-year-old boy named Kenneth who will grab hold of your heart and never let go. This is writing and reading at its very best!” —Susan Wasson, Bookworks (Albuquerque, NM)