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The Fruit of Stone Hardcover – August 5, 2002
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Mark Spragg, author of the widely praised memoir Where Rivers Change Direction, sets off his first novel, The Fruit of Stone, with a cacophony of twittering birds. Starlings, sparrows, and magpies punctuate Barnum McEban's glorious morning-after with his best friend's wife, Gretchen. When Gretchen leaves town and her marriage behind, McEban and his bereft friend Bennett follow her letters from post-office boxes in Wyoming to Montana and back. Cutting through the road-trip action and Bennett's tenuous control over his temper and his rifle is the story of McEban's own family. His emotionally closed father, his migraine-riddled mother, the brusque but paternal ranch foreman Ansel, and his grandmother form a parallel tale of life on the ranch: hard work, hard living, and hard times. Spragg spins a good Western yarn and infuses every natural landscape with poetic intention, but the writing drags in these transcendent descriptions. The story reads at its most authentic in the terse dialogue between the two hardened friends; their inability to speak poetically to each other brings out more emotion than a flock of pretty birds. --Emily Russin
From Publishers Weekly
Spragg's debut novel (after the well-received memoir, Where Rivers Change Direction) is a stylish western, set in present-day Wyoming and revolving around a longstanding romantic triangle. Barnum McEban, usually just known as McEban, is a 41-year-old bachelor living on his father's ranch with Ansel, the family ranch hand. His best friend, rancher-turned-developer Bennett Reilly, is married to McEban's old girlfriend, Gretchen. When Gretchen leaves Bennett, she also leaves behind a note recommending that he track her to Bozeman and bring McEban with him. Bennett follows this advice, making the second half of the book a road trip through Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The two men are a fine pair: Bennett half-manic and defeated, and McEban sunk in guilt and memories. In Yellowstone Park, Bennett beats up a mute ranger and picks up two drifting Indians, 29-year-old Rita and her nine-year-old brother, Paul. Their company and the company of Rita's dead sister, Alma, with whom Rita is in constant communication distracts Bennett and McEban, but cannot keep Bennett from following the self-destructive course he is embarked on to a tragic end. Spragg has a nice ear for dialogue and can invest a character (notably Bennett) with comic energy. Unfortunately, all too often he obscures the solid virtues of his storytelling beneath the overfamiliar stoic lyricism that has become almost de rigueur in westerns in the wake of Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy. Author tour; foreign rights sold in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. (Aug.)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The Fruit of Stone (Vintage Contemporaries)
Spragg, is a thorough and profoundly truth-seeking author. He even uses a few place names only a handful of map makers and users would know are real, and they add cleverness and levels of thought to his broad skill as a writer. Characters act out as people I know "act out". They surprise me. They do not give notice. Not much is predictable in this man's very able writing. I like the reality of unpredictability. Much is in Wyoming because of our familial interactions and personal attractions across the vast expanse of this rugged-arsed land and survivors spawned can-do people so Spragg lights them up by writing them down.
A powder River ranch owner once praised another Wyoming writer by saying: "It's his lie, let 'im tell it like he wants". I found Mark Spragg's skills far more worthy of a more positive praise, but I don't seem able to crystalize one just yet.
Buy this man's writings and savor them with a good read. You may learn truths about "Wyomingites", but I encourage you to read on anyway for the universal nuggets on life he pans and hands over. I just bought another of his works. Summer is not a good time to find reading hours, but Mark Spragg has me intrigued.