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Bone Fire: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 9, 2010

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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272751
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

A Q&A with Author Mark Spragg

Question: You’ve said that the genesis of Bone Fire started with a series of reoccurring daydreams of Einar Gilkyson tending a huge fire of bones and antlers. Where do you think this particular image came from?

Mark Spragg: I’d guess the image emerged from that part of my subconscious that yearns for a sense of completion and comfort and rest. Einar appeared very satisfied in my daydreams, calm in the firelight at the very end of his life but not at all disturbed by the idea of death. I believe it was because of Einar’s apparent ease that I began to wonder about all of the old men who must have--through the centuries of human existence--sat in the night warming themselves at a fire, perhaps reflecting about how they’d managed with their lives. It was his fearlessness that was initially attractive.

Question: Bone Fire takes place many years after An Unfinished Life. You’ve also said that you didn’t intend to write another novel set in Ishawooa, but found that you had to in order to satisfy your curiosities about these people. How did you know you weren’t finished with them? And how did you decide to revisit them at this particular moment in their lives?

Mark Spragg: There was primarily the image of Einar at the fire, but then I became obsessed with Griff, the little girl in An Unfinished Life, wondering about what she might be like as a young woman, and then Paul, the little boy from The Fruit of Stone, wondering about the young man he had become. I was surprised every step of the way that I had so many unanswered questions about the characters from these previous two novels, and that their lives had become so linked together in my imagination.

Question: Many people have an idealized view of the West as a place that in many ways is frozen in time. Is this something you think about, trying to create a more accurate accounting of it in your work?

Mark Spragg: It’s very natural for me to set my books in the West because it’s where I grew up and have lived for most of my adult life. I care for the place enough to try, at the very least, to render it accurately. Idealizing anything--a region, a religion, an individual--strips it of its humanity, and one is left with only parody. So yes, I try my hardest to write the reality of what I know.

Question: Further to that point, early in this novel Crane Carlson, the sheriff, finds a teenager murdered in a meth lab, a crime he’ll continue to investigate throughout the book. Natural beauty and violence seem to intersect in your novels in surprising ways, each really shining a laser-sharp beam on the other. Is that contrast intentional?

Mark Spragg: The contrast may be more unavoidable than intentional. Certainly, there’s violence everywhere, but perhaps in a starker landscape--one-half of Wyoming is owned by the Federal Government in the form of parks and national forests and wilderness areas, and there’s quite a lot of deeded land that remains undeveloped--violence appears to be more shocking, strangely more personal.

Question: Can you talk a little about the relationship between McEban and Kenneth, and where in your life or imagination that relationship comes from? Kenneth is the same age as Griff was in An Unfinished Life. Is it a coincidence that both novels feature a child around the age of ten? How does having a child’s perspective feel important to you?

Mark Spragg: I particularly love children at that age. They’re remarkably capable without owning the self-consciousness of adolescence, or the arrogance. They seem to me uncommonly brave and insightful, and even in very bad situations, at ten they still seem hopeful, believing that they might make a difference in the world. There was also the ten-year-old Paul in The Fruit of Stone. So, clearly this is an aspect of human relationship about which I am utterly fascinated.

Question: Kenneth is a boy in a world of men, much as Einar remembers being as a child. It’s a childhood filled with fun, but also one very much about apprenticeship and learning how to become a man. When he’s taken out of this world and thrust into a more conventional childhood--the one with iPods and channel surfing--he’s miserable. Why did you decide to put him in this situation?

Mark Spragg: I believe children want to be useful. Further, I believe that each of us yearns to contribute to something grander than ourselves, to become part of a family, a community. This rather modern notion of childhood as an 18-year stretch of unfettered play and irresponsibility was not my experience.

Question: Of your own childhood, you’ve said: "My appetite for quietude, no doubt, has something to do with being raised on a National Forest just off the edge of the Yellowstone Plateau. We couldn’t get television or radio reception, and of course the Internet was years away. I was raised with the luck of silence." Could you expand on that particular piece of luck?

Mark Spragg: More specifically, I was raised without distraction. There were no electronic screens, however large or small, or supposedly informative and essential to my happiness, that I looked to for entertainment or information. There were the people around me, and the natural world, and I was required to be engaged. I was not allowed to be merely a spectator. There was nothing about my boyhood world that was virtual, and I suppose I miss being that completely undistracted in my day-to-day life.

(Photo © Virginia Korus Spragg)

From Publishers Weekly

Spragg's disappointing third novel (after An Unfinished Life), a dry and unsatisfying contemporary western, lacks narrative momentum and a sense of purpose. Griff drops out of college to care for her ailing grandfather, Einar, on his Wyoming ranch. Einar, suffering from a mysterious illness, is unhappy with Griff throwing aside her life for his sake, so he summons home his estranged lesbian sister, Marin, to watch over him. Griff, a gifted sculptor whose works involve clay bones wired into exotic and fantastical skeletons, is also at odds with her alcoholic mother and faces the possibility of a long separation from her boyfriend, a graduate student about to leave to volunteer in Uganda. In a parallel plot, Griff's stepfather, sheriff Crane Carlson, finds a dead body in a meth lab and receives a dreaded medical diagnosis that inspires him to reconnect with his first wife. Although there are some touching moments, most of the novel is humorless to the point of parody, and the attempt at tying together everything at the end feels forced. Despite all the issues it touches on, the overall effect of this modern western is oddly inconsequential. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

I absolutely adored this book.
Southern Reader
There are lots more similarly interesting characters but you get the drift.
Hollister Bulldawg
It was interesting and intriguing and had wonderful language.
Molly Mayer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
'The Fruit of Stone' was great. 'An Unfinished Life' even better. I was looking forward to coffee with Einar and Mitch again out on their ranch but alas that will not happen. I will avoid spoilers here, but this is not the heartwarming book of love and care that 'An Unfinished Life' had started. While that book did show how people can care for one another, such as Mitch needing to be tended, this book does the same but in a very different way. Now Einar is the one who has replaced Mitch in needing attention for his old age.
Everyone in the book is falling apart in their own way. Some addicts, others with failed relationships and so on. This is not an uplifting tale.
The writing alone is not the same. This book lacks the smooth prose you enjoyed so much about Spragg's other novels. Not impossible to get through, but not very memorable. I will reread Spragg's other novels, but never this one. Not sure if I will even hold on to it for that reason, it will not be recommended or read again.
I still have faith in Spragg though, he can write a great story. I just wish we left Einar where we saw him last in 'An Unfinished Life.'

But that's life I guess. People grow old, and times get bad. But we don't need to pay to read about em.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on March 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In Ishawooa, Wyoming Sheriff Crane Carlson finds the corpse of a teen amidst the wreckage of a meth lab at a time the stoic cowboy has personal issues. He has just learned what he expected about his failing health and wants to reconnect with his first wife who has remarried; not withstanding that Crane is married too. His current spouse Jean is a nasty vulnerable drunken pothead outraged that her husband is reaching out to her predecessor and not her.

Her daughter Griff the sculptor dropped out of her eastern college to return to Wyoming to care for her ailing octogenarian grandfather Einar Gilkyson. He loves her especially her devotion, but wants her to live her life as her health care graduate student boyfriend Paul heads to Uganda with or without her. Instead Einar asks his estranged lesbian sister Marin whose long time love just died to come to the ranch to take acre of him as he is dying.

Paul's nephew ten years old Kenneth was abandoned by his New Age mom. However, rancher Barnum McEban raises the lad with tender love.

This is a well written modern day western drama of life in a small Wyoming town. Griff is the hub of the tale as the ensemble cast is a sort of no more than two degrees from her. The characters are too stereotyped, but they come together in stark environs as life seemingly tosses no hitters at them. Yet with all the desolateness of reality, Griff shines with a powerful caring energy while using the bone remains of animals as the objects of her art; metaphysically displaying life as a Phoenix arising from the Bone Fire of the dead.

Harriet Klausner
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By From Iowa on March 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There are many ways to enjoy Bone Fire: For new readers of Spragg's work, this is a lovely introduction to his rich prose and deeply drawn characters within a plot that runs as quickly as a spring brook. I envy the new reader meeting Einer, McEban, Griff, Jean and Paul for the first time within this story full of Spragg's crystal clear imagery of the modern western landscape. Enjoy! For myself and the many other fans of Spargg's books, (Where Rivers Change Direction, The Fruit of Stone, and An Unfinished Life,) we can settle in and be entranced by this new chapter of characters grown dear to us, and painted in full color with Spragg's lyrical writing. I can get lost in the prose like a spiritual acolyte having their first moment of Being - I just want to linger within the moment of the language, possibly forever. But the intriguing plot begs me to turn page after page to travel with these beautiful, damaged, perfect characters once more. Bone Fire has inspired me to re-read Spragg's other books once again as first chapters to this current story - yet a third way to enjoy the book. I feel fortunate to have them all in my library, and look forward to future books whether we follow these characters or new ones. I highly recommend them all.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dottie on October 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
It is difficult to address my thoughts about this book. It is either a scattered and unorganized work with more characters than plot, or it is a brilliant work that is multi-faceted and uses numerous creative metaphors. Superficially, this is a crime novel tracing a troubled sheriff's investigation of a murder. However, it explores much much more than this. Characters' relationships are realistically complex and offer fun tidbits of humor. It is a tough story that examines the roles of death, but does so in a somewhat optimistic way. It is a little difficult to get your head around and offers additional difficulty in convincing you that you should be interested in it. I still recommend it as long as you read it for the character development and look for metaphors throughout.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Julene Bair on July 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I can't believe it took me so long to get around to this book, as I'm a fan of Mark Spragg's work. I'm glad I waited, though, because today I'm in that state of bliss that comes from having been recently re-immersed in a world that I have some knowledge of but had to leave when I moved from Wyoming to Colorado. Spragg gets it right, as always.

Take the youngest character in this book, Kenneth. He is only ten, yet has totally absorbed the western values that shape the best men in that region. When his wacko, but charming, mom comes for one of her brief and unexpected visits, he keeps his level head. He knows she'll leave soon. This is not his preference, but just the way she is. Rather than spend the evening with her, he opts to let his father do that and chooses to go out and change the water in the flood irrigated fields. He says, "I should get used to changing the water by myself...So I know I can."

That awareness of how things are with loved ones and that practicality suffuses every character, yet each is also surprising and interesting--not really the kind of people you'd expect to find in Wyoming, but the kind of people you do find there: people who have read some, who think that Dick Cheney ought to have to see at least one of the boys destroyed in the Iraq war every day of his life, and who, instead of undermining one another, although they do plenty of that, do rise to the challenge, or try to, when things get really serious and rough for someone they love.

The book also challenges every notion you ever had about a western story. The sheriff, who we normally expect to triumph in the end and win the woman he loves, has a terminal illness. And he loves two women, one of them his first wife, and the other the widowed wife of a best friend.
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