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Five Skies Hardcover – May 17, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st edition (May 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038504
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038503
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,002,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Two stoics and a teenage misanthrope are brought together in Idaho's Rocky Mountains to build a ramp to nowhere in Carlson's first novel in 25 years, a tour de force of grief, atonement and the cost of loyalty. Darwin Gallegos, spiritually bereft after the sudden death of his wife, is hired for one last job at Rio Difficulto, the sprawling ranch where he had lived and worked for years. The job: construct a motorcycle ramp that will launch a daredevil across a gorge (the event is to be taped and bring in a pile of money). Darwin hires for the job drifters Arthur Key, a large and quiet man hiding from his recent past, and Ronnie Panelli, a wiry teenager on the lam from minor criminal mischief. As the men work from late spring through summer, their wounds come slowly to light: the seething fury that took root in Darwin after his wife died; Arthur's career as the go-to Hollywood stunt engineer that he abandoned after betraying his guileless brother; and Ronnie's short lifetime of failure, atoned for as he learns the carpentry trade. Carlson writes with uncommon precision, and this return to long-form fiction after four well-received story collections is stunning. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

A notable exponent of that difficult literary technique the happy ending, Carlson, who has been writing short stories for decades, brings a gentle sense of decency to his third novel, a tale of the mountain West. High in the desert plains of southern Idaho, three men gather for a summer of hard work: an aging rancher, whose wife was killed in a freak accident; a nineteen-year-old fleeing both family and law; and an engineer whose career is built on precision but whose brother died in a poorly planned stunt. Time and talk, so often friends to Carlson’s characters, slowly heal the wounds, but the men’s commission, a ramp for a Knievel-style canyon jump, makes hazardous any hope for moral uplift and serves, in the end, as the stage for tragedy. But Carlson may be a short-story writer at heart; like his picaresque early novels, this one lacks the assured line of a natural novelist. Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker

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Customer Reviews

This is a wonderful book, written in a kind of prose that seems effortless yet clearly considered, word by word.
Paul Cook
Carlson has captured them, the way they deal with pain and loss of pride, and the way they slowly recover from both, in a way that is utterly believable.
Ronald Scheer
Written by, in in my opinion, one of the finest short story writers alive, Ron Carlson's Five Skies was his first novel in decades.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Paul Cook on June 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The description above of what FIVE SKIES is about belies its tenderness and its deep regard for men who have suffered enormous personal and emotional setbacks in life and who are trying to get back on track. This isn't a Hemingway novel, quite, because Carlson knows how to write about women as well. But the focus here is on men who turn to the common utility of hard work to begin the process of restructuring their lives . . . if such a thing can be done.

What drives this novel are the pasts of the three men who've come together in the Idaho wilderness on the edge of a canyon to construct a jumping platform for a motorcycle stunt that's to take place later in the summer. Arthur Key, the main character, is a sturdy man of middle age who blames himself for the death of his younger brother (this is not a spoiler, for it's revealed early on that Art is in Idaho to regroup and recover this one loss). Darwin leads the team, a man who is so powerfully angry at God for taking his wife that he's almost made inarticulate by it and all he can do is to find release in the everyday modes of the construction site and a day in the canyon fishing (it's this sequence that might remind some readers of Nick Adams in Michigan from IN OUR TIME but rendered more imagistically colorful by Carlson's astonishing prose). The younger boy Ronnie is barely fresh from being a juvenile delinquent and knows virtually nothing about the world (including the world of girls) and we follow Carlson as he is taken under wing by the two older men and shown "the ropes". Carlson has often written of families, focusing on the relationships between men and women; here he focuses on the fine art of fathers raising sons . . . and brothers looking out for one another.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on December 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well into this novel, I was ready to give it six stars for the beauty of its vision and the strength of its characterization - in particular the way it describes exactly how men work together and guardedly learn to trust each other. The gentle needling humor in the sparse exchanges of dialogue and the focus on work to be done, plus the soul-satisfying nature of work well done, accurately represent a quiet masculine world that is seldom seen in fiction. I instantly recognized the three men in this story because I know them from life. Carlson has captured them, the way they deal with pain and loss of pride, and the way they slowly recover from both, in a way that is utterly believable.

Placing his three characters for a summer on a work site in southern Idaho, 20 miles from the nearest settlement, Carlson adds the healing effects of a vast, isolated environment under a big sky. The only thing that compromises the men is the dubious nature of the work itself - their time, energies and intelligence (though well paid for) serve the wasteful and ephemeral appetites of popular culture and its willing promoters. The river gorge that runs near their campsite eventually exacts a kind of toll for the hubris that drives the entire enterprise.

I haven't read a book so well written and so gripping in its portrayal of men since James Salter's "Solo Faces," which pursues similar themes in a world of physical extremes (alpine mountain climbing). And almost never does one read of the simple process of an older man taking under his wing a lost and troubled younger man and with gentle humor and mentoring setting his life back on track.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on January 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Five Skies," Ron Carlson's exquisitely crafted and spiritually resonant novel about three emotionally-damaged men who discover themselves while working on a construction project in remote Idaho, illustrates the power of literary epiphany. The three protagonists initially know little of each other, each recognizing that the two others hold devastating secrets, unspoken pain and unalloyed confusion as to life's ultimate purpose. Carlson is little short of brilliant as he illuminates the hidden recesses of the human heart and draws the reader into the most important project the men are responsible for achieving: self-understanding. "Five Skies" is both moving and powerful; the novel has an integrity and dignity as broad as the expansive Idaho skies and as deep as the gorge near which his protagonists labor.

Foreman Darwin Gallegos impulsively hires two day laborers, Arthur Key and Ronnie Panelli, to help him build a stunt ramp. The summer-long project essentially isolates the three men and forces them to come to grips with the forces that drove them to such a location. Panelli is a two-bit juvenile delinquent, bewildered and ashamed at his criminal record and broken life. Gallegos flees from the shattering grief engendered by his wife's unexpected death; he is a human wreck -- angry, numb and frustrated. Key, who becomes the central character in the novel, is an over-sized, hands-on engineer, capable of visualizing a project and painstakingly careful so that every detail is in place. He is overwhelmed by guilt and shame, and Key's remorse eventually becomes the engine that fuels each character's journey to self-recognition and acceptance.

Integral to Carlson's treatment of epiphany is silence.
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