Destination: New Mexico
Book: Backlands: A Novel of the American West by Michael McCarrity
I felt right at home in Backlands. Not that I’m a ropin’ ridin’ cowgirl who lives in a remote New Mexico ranch, but I am pretty familiar with the lifestyle of the ranchers of southern Arizona and New Mexico, and have traveled around much of the sun-baked stretches between mountain ranges that they inhabit.
Backlands is the second in a three-book series about the Kerney family. McCarrity also spun a mystery series off the first book, Hard Country, that follows the adventures of former Sherrif Kevin Kerney. The books follow a ranching family headed by the difficult father. As Backlands opens, young Matt is being raised by his strong-willed mother, divorced from Matt’s father after their older son died in World War I. Mother and young son live in town, while the father continues to run the Tularosa Basin ranch almost single-handedly, carefully hiding a secret past behind a wall of irrascibility.
We are swept up in the hard daily life of ranching in the twenties and thirties into the period of World War II. It is the reality of life and description of the land that held my attention. Unlike most books I have read recently, there is no one action driving the plot forward. It is, instead, incident piled upon incident that helps the reader inhabit the lives of these people.
I suppose those who idealize the West and picture themselves as heroes of Gene Autry movies, will find tidbits to sustain their daydreams. I was more inclined to appreciate the determination–yes, true grit–that kept (and keeps) dry-country ranchers going through dust storms and depressions, rustling and railroad arrivals.
If you like lots of swift action and a driving through line, a book that is over as quick as it begins, this book will not be for you. If however, you like to curl up with a book that takes you to a new place and introduces you to some interesting people, in 500 pages, then give Backlands a read.
By the way, if you’d like to wander the back roads and see some of the ranching country from the book, McGarrity has assisted by putting a map of the American Southwest in 1930 in the front and back of the book. And it hasn’t changed much. How can a traveler resist places with names like Tularosa and Alamogorda and Socorro? Besides, White Sands is right nearby. Have you seen that wonder of nature yet?
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