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An Unfinished Life Hardcover – August 31, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
An old rancher reluctantly takes in his daughter-in-law and granddaughter in this moving and well-crafted, if rather derivative, second novel by Spragg (The Fruit of Stone). Jean Gilkyson hasn't been back to her hometown of Ishawooa, Wyo., since her husband, Griffin, died in a car accident. Jean was driving, and Griffin's father, Einar, has never forgiven her for his son's death. Ten years and four boyfriends later, Jean has run out of money and options. With her precocious nine-year-old daughter, Griff, she escapes boyfriend number four, a smirking brute named Roy. Einar isn't happy to see mother or daughter, but Griff loves his log house and ranch life. She makes friends right away with Mitch, Einar's old Vietnam War buddy, who's been mauled by a grizzly and is horribly scarred, and gradually wins over her grandfather. Meanwhile, Jean is charming the town sheriff, which comes in handy when Roy tracks her down. Spragg's spare storytelling is rock solid, but he covers well-worn territory in language familiar to readers of Cormac McCarthy and Kent Haruf, never quite striking off on his own.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
An Unfinished Life follows on the heels of Spraggs memoir about growing up on a Wyoming ranch, Where Rivers Change Direction, and his Western debut, The Fruits of Stone. This latest effort, which raises comparisons to Kent Harufs Plainsong and Eventide (*** July/Aug 2004), delves into the world of fractured families. Memorable secondary characters contribute a great deal of spirit to this emotionally charged story of love, loss, betrayal, and reconciliation. Although most critics adored An Unfinished Life for its concise language, fast-paced plotting, and Western feel, a few criticized its predictable romance and untidy ending. And, most mourned its Hollywood qualitiesyes, it will soon hit the big screen, with Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, and Jennifer Lopez.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Top customer reviews
As a book selection in an elective high school course--re: not required for graduation--An Unfinished Life was somewhat handicapped from the start. It isn't about vampires, romance, sex, or money. The reading level is adult and contains quite a few sentences that are more than eight words in length. Description outweighs action. Yet students not only finished the book, they took it in. They felt the feelings of the characters. They embraced Spragg's way of showing how some family members are chosen beyond bloodlines, how two men can be completely devoted to one another, how a child can be much more astute about the losers a parent brings into their lives than the parent, how loss can be debilitating and feed a bitterness that seems insurmountable--until a second chance or opportunity for redemption, and how life isn't over until it is truly and completely over, even when things seem otherwise. These are things my students experience in their own lives, and Spragg's characters validated their instincts and experiences instead of the more typical arguments they hear against them (that blood family trumps all, that men who care deeply for one another are suspect, that parents are omnipotently wise, how time heals all wounds unless one is weak, and that bad decisions are forever with us, so don't screw up).
The craftsmanship that allowed Einar, Griff, Mitch and all of the other characters to speak to my students also developed a landscape they could see, smell, and hear--whether they had ever been west of Kansas or not, and Spragg's method of showing various points of view and skillfully revealing snippets of the past kept students curious and eagerly reading beyond my required schedule. It is not typical to have visually driven high school students report liking a book more than the film, but such was the case here. No, the film isn't terrible; it's just that it only offers us eyeball-images of the characters and the scenes instead of Spragg's words. Now Robert Redford, even grayed and scruffy, and Jennifer Lopez, albeit bruised, certainly are not hard to look at, and the landscapes shown in the film are often breath-taking, and we do like Morgan Freeman's Mitch and the young actress who is perfect as Griff, but through the book Spragg guides our imaginations to create views in the "inner eye" that are more satisfying. More significantly, the feelings the book leads readers to develop for these fictitious characters makes it hard to let them go. The relationship between Mitch and Einar is both touching and hilarious, and Griff is simultaneously observant, brave, and willing in the way only a child of ten can be--if the child is developed by Spragg. The moments when a teacher provides a book which students would not have chosen and are not necessarily excited about reading are not rare; but when, having read such a book, students say they love it, when they talk about the book and the characters outside of class, and when they become more open to the idea of willingly trying other books outside of their comfort zones...well, those are the moments that keep teachers doing what they do. An Unfinished Life had such an effect.
Finally, if you ever get the chance to meet Mark Spragg and hear him discuss his work, don't miss the chance. I haven't recently met a more genuine, unpretentious, and generous man than he, and my students were so impressed after an hour-long meeting during school hours that many in the class drove thirty minutes (one way)to an evening reading on their own time--and with their own gas. They sat through over 90 minutes of an author reading from and talking about his book, and doing so wasn't required of them. 'nough said.
appreciation of the child's resemblance to her father in looks and character. No question Jennefer Lopez' protrayal lifted the
character she played in the movie.
I think the author thinks women think and talk like the book. I don't believe they actually do, even a very damaged character.
Her character is missing a lot of information on how she got that way. It made Einer's attitude more believable. Just not movie
material. Good for the re-write.
A good experience in appreciating the creative process involved in character development and story line, keeping some good
lines, but changing the meaning in speakers and context. Interesting.
I know 4 other people I told about it who say the movie is their fav/ watch it over and over.
Thank you, lfj
I really love this story because it has depth AND an interesting plot. It is about forgiveness, and desperation, and growing and learning as a person. But no preaching; it's all in the plot the way it is supposed to be. I read the book and within a few days I watched the movie. I can't tell you which I like better, I love them both. (Except of course in the movie you get to look at Morgan Freeman and Robert Redford.)