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Little Century: A Novel Hardcover – June 5, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Little Century . . . is rendered vividly through fluid and restrained prose, solid plotting and a keen eye for detail . . . Keesey, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, treads [her] territory competently, imbuing her characters with palpable motives, rich contradictions and fully realized pasts. She also stays atop the rising action of the story, upping the stakes for her characters and the town of Century as she herds us efficiently toward the conclusion. At the same time, she knows not to hurry readers along without letting them soak up the atmosphere. The real star of the novel is Oregon's high desert, a vast, quiet plain Keesey captures in many of its dynamic moods, in language ranging from the plain­spoken to the elegant . . . [Keesey's] language serves the story admirably, rarely crossing the line into the self-conscious, the sentimental or the flashy. In short, Keesey is a sentence writer in control of her craft. She's a storyteller who stays out of her own way. (Jonathan Evison, The New York Times Book Review)

Ambitious . . . Accomplished . . . [Keesey's] words are clear as lake water . . . [The] plot works easily and well, but the real joys of the book are the set pieces showing town life and Esther's almost unnoticed passage into womanhood. There's a church dance, effortlessly drawn, and a couple of sermons, boring and portentous, and scenes of Esther learning to ride and plant and plow, and a perfect little scene of Esther and a friend helping a little girl jump rope . . . 'Tender' is a word Keesey uses again and again to describe her characters. She mothers them, cares about them like children, wants to protect them from the hell they have been so intent upon making. She persuades the reader to cherish them, as well. (Carolyn See, The Washington Post)

[A] briskly romantic, nontraditional Western . . . It's Willa Cather with a sense of humor . . . Keesey portrays her men and women as deeply flawed but so achingly vulnerable that it is impossible not to identify with them. (Liza Nelson, O: The Oprah Magazine)

There's not a single sentence in this novel that reads like it took hard work. The characters, sprung from another time, living in a place as removed as another planet, come to life on the page, and all their flaws feel as consistent and true as the flaws of our dearest loved ones in this work of near perfection. (Elizabeth Word Gutting, The Rumpus)

Keesey writes lyrically and examines the ferocity of frontier life with an unromantic and penetrating voice. (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

Highly entertaining reading. First novelist Keesey has produced a top-notch novel of Western Americana. (Keddy Ann Outlaw, Library Journal (starred review))

Confidently energetic . . . While Keesey offers a variety of characters with intriguing stories of their own, it is the richly depicted setting--from desert to dry good store--that showcases her talent. (Publishers Weekly)

Here is a fine novel, written with grace, about the settling of Oregon and the evening redness in the West. The desert town of Century is about to consume itself with greed and vengeance when a young orphan from Chicago shows up with a moral clarity that outstrips her age, to remind us that character matters, and that justice is pursuant to conscience. Little Century is a frontier saga, a love story, and an epic of many small pleasures. (Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End)

'One place understood helps us understand all other places better,' Eudora Welty once said, and such is the case in this outstanding debut. Anna Keesey renders Little Century's time and place marvelously, but the novel's concerns are timeless and universal. With its beautiful language, memorable characters, and compelling story, Little Century is sure to gain a wide and appreciative audience. (Ron Rash, author of Serena)

This is a beautiful and completely absorbing book. In spare, luminous prose, Anna Keesey perfectly conjures the textures, characters, and urgency of life in Century. I read it at a gallop, and didn't want it to end. (Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles)

Little Century is rich and true and achingly beautiful. Its heroine, Esther Chambers, is the kind found in the best classic literature: an innocent caught against the backdrop of escalating violence whose essential goodness and loyalty shine through the savagery around her. (Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter)

In this novel of stunning beauty, Anna Keesey gives us the American West at the turn of the century, and a cast of unforgettable characters who will risk anything to tame it. Oregon's hardscrabble frontier comes utterly alive for us in prose so lovely, spot-on, and accomplished that I found myself dog-earing nearly every page. An incredible debut--and a writer to watch. (Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife)

Anna Keesey conjures her Western landscape of ranches and homesteads with painterly richness, but it's her uncanny historical imagination that really takes the breath away. Her characters pulse with life; their times feel as immediate, as urgent and vital, as our own. (Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl)

Historical fiction at its finest--precise and particular in detail, character, and setting, yet vast and epic in scope and theme. Little Century is a remarkable achievement. (Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948)

About the Author

Anna Keesey is a graduate of Stanford University and of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and has held residencies at MacDowell, Bread Loaf, Yaddo, and Provincetown. Keesey teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374192049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374192044
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,262,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gail Rodgers VINE VOICE on May 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Century, Oregon is a small town on the edge of the change of the century. Eighteen-year-old, new orphan Esther Chambers has come to town to stay with her cousin until she figures out what she wants to do or should do with her life. Before she barely has a chance to get acquainted with her cousin, he is helping her file for a government homestead. Esther swears to the clerk that she is 21, the minimum age for a homestead claim and he ignores her youthful looks and all is well. Her cousin then seems assured that when she proves up the claim he will be able to buy it and increase his ranch size by another 160 acres.

To prove up her claim Esther has to sleep at the claim a certain amount of time and plant a certain amount on the claim, but since her cousin wants the claim, he provides her with help from his ranch hands. This provides her with time to go frequently into town and get to know the men and women of Century. As she gets to know them she becomes immersed in the daily struggles of people trying to farm without enough water, cattlemen who tend to think all the free range is theirs and shepherds that also need a place to graze their sheep.

Without giving away the story, I enjoyed this book as it felt like reading very personalized account of a young girl as she comes into her own as a woman. How she acclimates to Century and how the town and people become hers. Over the last few years I have read several books that take place in the western parts of the United States and I am always surprised at the new inventions that are available in cities but are basically magic to those in small towns and out on distant ranches and farms. The massive amount of new technology that has come into our lives in the last 112 years is astounding and fascinating to read about the times when it was just coming into being. Little Century is another book that straddles the new with the old and is a charming book to read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Anna Keesey's "Little Century" was a story that I had to read twice to really get the story of Esther Chambers and her life at Half-A-Mind, the land she settles on.

Keesey's writing is plain spoken and beautifully paced. The first time I read the book, I didn't quite appreciate it. Perhaps it was my mood but the second time I read it, the simplicity is deceptive. As Keesey rolls out Esther's experiences, the deceptiveness is in how each character is clearly defined and his or her actions feel real so it is hard to judge any of them.

Esther is the center. Eighteen and orphaned, she travels to Oregon because of a distant relative who lives there. Ferris "Pick" Pickett is a charismatic cattleman and he takes her to the homestead of Half-A-Mind.

The town of Century is in conflict. There are the cattlemen, the sheepherders, and a possible railroad. Each side has a stake for a reason.

That's the part that got to me on the second reading. I liked everyone even as they made bad decisions. They were understandable decisions under circumstances.

And Keesey's strengths is in description of everything from a scratchy coverall to the homestead that is Half-A-Mind.

The ending is a debatable one. I wasn't sure about it and if I had written my review after the first read, I would have taken a star off from it. But reading it again, I get it a little better and with caution, give the book a 5-star rating.

I liked it a lot on the first read; but I really understood it better on the second.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A range war, schemes to circumvent homesteading laws, a murder mystery, and romance - these and other subjects make their appearance throughout Anna Keesey's debut novel "Little Century." Set in early twentieth century Oregon, "Little Century" is the story of one young woman's, Esther Chambers', maturing and gaining her independence. Intelligent writing and several very interesting secondary characters keep this novel readable and help maintain the reader's attention throughout.

Orphaned, eighteen year old Esther Chambers travels westward, seeking her late father's cousin, Ferris Pickett. "Pick," a wealthy cattleman, asks Esther to homestead a piece of property so that he can eventually purchase it from her. Although underage, Esther lies for Pick so that she can claim the land which adjoins his spread. As Esther learns the ways and meets the citizens of Century, Oregon she forms her own opinions and views of the conflicts surrounding the range war between cattlemen and sheep herders. In doing so, Esther must make a decision between following her heart and doing the right thing or remaining quiet and accepting the life Pick offers.

Anna Keesey presents Esther Chambers as a vulnerable, but intelligent young woman. Her open acceptance of Joe Peaslee, an Army veteran and local merchant, allow Esther to come in contact with ideas and opinions that are not conventionally held in Century. Peaslee is an entertaining, intriguing character and deserves to have his story told in a separate novel. The school teacher, Jane Fremont, has a mysterious, checkered past; that past is never fleshed out completely. Delores Green, Pick's former paramour, is a woman who struggles financially, yet is rich in the love of her family and children.
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