Kent Meyers powerfully written novel is set in the South Dakota plains, home of the Black Hills, Badlands, several Lakota reservations, cowboys and ranches, sweeping winds, bitter cold winters and dust. Strong themes of family history, family duty, and personal freedom resonate throughout - "Look around you. Cages are everywhere." Also crucial to the plot is the importance of doing what is right. To do the right thing. To be true to oneself. To make good choices. But, as one character states clearly, "Being right is not enough. Even if this is the best thing to do. Even if it is the only thing. We must not think we are pure."
Three men, an improbable trio of strangers, come together to try to do what is right in an impossible situation.
Carson Fielding, a loner who has a talent for training horses, finds himself in an untenable position. His father, owner of a small ranch in Twisted Tree, South Dakota, is going through tough financial times and promises Carson's skilled services to Magnus Yarborough, the wealthiest man around. Yarborough is also a sadistic control freak who tried to get the best of Carson when he was just a fourteen year-old youth buying his first horse. Carson precociously held his own against Yarborough then, but he never forgot how the man tried to take advantage of him, an idealistic adolescent boy. Magnus never forgot either.
Fielding is to train three horses and teach Magnus' young wife how to ride. He makes it clear from the start, he does not "break" horses - he trains them. He makes the ground rules, not Magnus, and as long as he works with the horses they are his. "He is not a hired hand and he does things his own way at his own speed." Although they get off to a bad start, Carson and Rebecca Yarborough work well together as they ride out over the prairie. She loves the horses and the freedom of riding across the open plains. Reb, as Carson calls her, feels caged at the ranch, as Magnus won't allow her to perform any work and there is little else for her to do. Her husband totally controls her and she feels a prisoner in her own home. She fears the man she married.
As is expected, the two discover they love each other, but their desire remains unconsummated. They want to do the honorable thing and above all do not want to do anything which would sully their feelings - their relationship. After a week or two, Magnus works-up a good hatred, accompanied by the green-eyed monster, as he loses control of the situation and himself. But he hated Carson, his self-confidence and refusal to be intimidated, long before he suspected him of having an affair with Rebecca. Yarborough is a vindictive man. His rage is relentless and knows no bounds.
Earl Walks Alone is a Lakota teen who excels in mathematics and hopes to win a scholarship to MIT. He is another loner. He doesn't drink so he is not welcome to party with his peers and thus becomes the butt of their jokes. His defense mechanism against his pain and isolation is to pretend he is filming an interior documentary of himself - "the Careful Indian." He has a continuous sardonic monologue running through his mind, describing his comings and goings: "The Careful Indian would rather stop than go. He believes that two green lights are twice as safe as one." And, "At times the Careful Indian can change into the Mathematical Indian, and when this happens he can lose all caution. Driven to do math by forces deep inside himself, the Mathematical Indian will sometimes exceed the speed limit."
Willi Schubert is a German exchange student whose love for the Lakota culture brought him to South Dakota to study for a year. In Germany he began to learn the Native American language and lore and is continuing to do so in the US with an American family as his sponsor. Willi also has problems with "cages," and is wise beyond his years about the damage that can be done when a person is caught up in his own history. "It seemed to him that history was the biggest cage of all and that it lay all around him....in steel and glittering array, and everywhere they turned they bumped against its bars."
One dark night, Earl and Willi discover three abused, starved horses penned-in on isolated land belonging to Magnus Yarborough. They go to Carson Fielding for help, knowing his love for horses. Another Native American, Ted Kills Many, an alcoholic, also joins the mission to free the animals.
Kent Myers weaves these diverse characters together beautifully into his strong narrative. Each man must reach into his past and break out of their invisible cages, fight their personal demons, to find the strength, the courage and knowledge to do what is right, "the work of wolves," with honor.
"The Work of Wolves" is never predictable or mawkish. The tale is as strong as the Dakota plains are tough and the characters of the men and women who people the story are stalwart. As a matter of fact, this is one of the best novels I read in 2005 - Top 5 and 5 Stars all the way. Read & ENJOY!!