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The Willow Field Hardcover – September 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Memoirist and story writer Kittredge's first novel (after The Nature of Generosity and Hole in the Sky) tells the life story of Rossie Benasco, the ornery son of a Reno, Nev., casino pit boss who, at age 15 in the early 1930s, takes work as a "wrango boy" at a Nevada ranch owned by retired rodeo legend Slivers Flynn. Rossie's intimate relationship with Slivers's daughter causes Slivers to give Rossie a choice: run a couple hundred horses to Calgary or stay and "have a mess of redheaded kids." Rossie chooses the thousand-mile trek and, at trail's end, falls for Eliza Stevenson, the beautiful and pregnant (the father "went batshit" and is in prison for assault) daughter of a Scottish businessman. Eliza's father deeds the family's Montana farm to Rossie to nudge him into marrying Eliza, and the couple seal their relationship with the birth of a son and a wedding. Kittredge moves Rossie along with a compelling confidence: Rossie learns to run a farm, watches his son mature and adopts an orphaned girl before joining the Marine Corps in December 1941; he is shot by a fellow soldier and spends most of his tour working as a supply clerk. Years later, his children grown, Rossie gets involved in local and state politics, which proves to be as perilous as the Pacific theater. Kittredge balances earthy dialogue with lyrical prose to create a memorable evocation of the American west. (Oct. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Rossie Benasco, a young man in Reno in the 1930s, turns his back on school and family and goes off "to be his own man with horses." But women get in the way. That premise stands behind much of western literature. Sometimes it's expressed in the formulaic terms of genre fiction, and other times, as in Kittredge's luminous first novel, it opens up an exploration of the magnetic fields that draw people together and push them apart. Kittredge's multigenerational saga begins with a stunning set piece--a classic horse drive, more than 200 head, from Nevada to Calgary. Rossie, a veteran ranch hand but still barely 20, signs on for the drive as a way of breaking ties with a girl and winds up forging even stronger ties with another girl, Eliza Stevenson, the unmarried but pregnant daughter of a rancher in Montana's Bitterroot Mountains. "We could be it, entirely it," Eliza says shortly after she meets Rossie, and as we watch their lives unfold, from the Depression through World War II and on into the 1960s, we realize that this strong-willed woman was both right and wrong. Like Birkin and Ursula in D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, Rossie and Eliza are "entirely it," but--fiery individuals both--they are also in perpetual conflict, cherishing their union just as they struggle not to be consumed by the other. This transcendent love story is at the heart of Kittredge's novel, but it is set against not one but two imposing landscapes--the Bitterroot and the Nevada desert, both of which demand their own allegiance from the characters' minds and hearts. Readers of Kittredge's acclaimed memoirs of growing up in the West, including the classic A Hole in the Sky (1994), have been anticipating his first novel for years. "Go to horses with no rush," Rossie's mentor explains to him, "but no fucking around, that's the deal." Kittredge knows that deal, and he gets it exactly right. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (September 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400040973
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400040971
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,145,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Helen Littrell on November 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
William Kittredge has once again broken new ground, this time with a powerful first novel, a glorious epic of life in the American West in the early 1930s. As in his previous work, "A Hole in the Sky: A Memoir", Kittredge proves that he is a wordsmith of the first order. We are immediately involved intimately in the life of Rossie Benasco as he progresses from a "wrango boy" of 15, living horseback on the hardscrabble ranches of Nevada and California, to a well-respected man of wealth and power, an influential landowner in the starkly beautiful Bitterroot Mountains of Montana.

"The Willow Field" is full of hard lives and lives of luxury, loves and losses, Kittredge's own convictions, and perhaps most importantly of all, a panoramic view of the American West as it actually was in the setting of the early 1930s.

Definitely a marvelous read, one I found difficult to put down, and impossible to get out of my mind afterward. Kittredge has established himself firmly as a first-class novelist with this passionate book about Rossie Benasco and the Montana so beloved by them both.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Barney Considine on January 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This novel does a good job with people and the rest is not as good. Fortunately, there is a lot more of it about people than anything else. The latter part of the book is much better than the front part. At a third of the way through I was going to give it two stars, the middle third gained it another star, and only memories of the beginning kept the last third from raising it to five stars.

This is the story of a boy, Rossie, and the progress of his growth as he lives out his life in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana. Rossie begins as a cowboy in Nevada and remains a horseman all his life. After he encounters Eliza, she becomes a key element of the story. A number of other people enter the story at intervals and, as is the case in life, most remain more or less connected to the end. A few of the bit players are typical westerners, but the psyches of the main characters are too unique to call typical.

Kittredge is almost an icon of Montana literature, although this is his first novel. He has filled this book with a great deal of what he has learned about Montana over decades, perhaps he includes too much. There are countless descriptions of experiences, events, and geographical features recognizable by those familiar with Montana and its history. If you are an aficionado of Montana literature, you might want to read this book with a notebook at hand and see how many allusions you recognize to other books. Some Kittredge spells out and others are subtle. One of the more obvious is the Missoula minister who is supposed to marry Rossie; his name is Dr. McLean and "they're legendary walkers and fishermen, two brothers and the father." There are probably some references that were accidental but are simply part of Kittredge's vast knowledge of the state.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on October 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In the 1930s, fifteen year old Rossie Benasco, son of the pit boss at the Riverside Casino in Reno, obtains work as a "wrango boy" at the Neversweat Ranch owned by retired rodeo star Slivers Flynn. He and his employer's daughter Mattie are attracted to one another so Slivers offers Rossie a choice. He can herd several hundred horses through Idaho and Montana to Calgary or he can marry Mattie and raise a horde of kids. Not ready for children, Rossie agrees to hit the trail.

At the end of the thousand mile journey, Rossie meets and falls in love with pregnant Scottish Eliza Stevenson. Her dad gives Rossie his Montana farm as a wedding present and soon she gives birth to a son that he adopts as his. The years go by, Rossie runs the farm and he and Eliza adopt a daughter. In December 1941 he enlists in the Marines, but is shot at home station and becomes a supply clerk. The years move on and so have their children

William Kitteredge is at his best with this homage to a bygone Americana rugged outdoors era. Readers will follow deeply Rossie's life from the 1930s as a teen through WWII on into the McCarthy period all the way up to 1991 when a "family" reunion with Mattie occurs. THE WILLOW FIELD is a superb slice of twentieth century Americana.

Harriet Klausner
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By mihalich mama on July 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
i , too, began this book expecting something similar to All The Pretty Horses. and the 1st few chapters seemed headed in that direction. then rossie meets eliza's parents, and the whole feel of the novel changes.
just go with it, though. sometimes its good not to get what you THOUGHT you wanted. the storyline is good enough to keep you moving along, even when you kinda start scratching your head at the ambiguous prose and unexpected direction changes.
also, i really came to love all the charecters in this book. everyone is so uniquely created and molded, and its cool how rossie's family unit shapes and re-shapes itself.
in closing, this is a very good piece of fiction. i believe most who pick it up will enjoy it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on December 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
Kittredge is a fine short story writer; one of the best. Read to page 74 of this novel and you will be entertained by a fine story, well told, about a young man signing on with a horse drive from northern California to Calgary. Set in the worst years of the Depression, it calls to mind an era when America and the American West were a very different place from what they are today.

You can put the book down at that point because what follows is a long meandering search for any further illumination of the subjects it has raised. Most frustrating are the characters' impulsiveness and lack of apparent motivation or the need to explain themselves. When they talk, they talk at each other, preferring irony to revealing what they actually think or feel. Since the central character, Rossie, seems only to follow the path of least resistance, trusting to luck, his actions are chiefly determined by his libido - and there are plenty of scenes of how that plays out. But it's a life that remains unexamined - either by Rossie himself or by Kittredge.

I hung on until half-way through the novel and finally jumped to the end, where I found nothing that gave me the idea I'd missed anything. The characters were still opaque and unreflective, still drinking and engaged in bantering, aimless conversations. I've never posted a review here for a book that I haven't read cover to cover, and I hesitate doing that this time. But Kittredge fans and any reader preferring depth of character, a strong story line, a vivid portrayal of history or geography, or any one of the above, should know that they may find this novel less than absorbing.
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