Monday, June 24, 2013

Review Roundup: Wide Open

Wide Open
By Larry Bjornson
Berkley Books, June 2012
$28.00 hardcover, ISBN 1410460584
$15.00 paperback, ISBN 0425247481
$15.00 Kindle, ASIN B0074VTH6G
384 pages

In 1871, Abilene, Kansas, is a raucous cow town on the cusp of a historic shift that will define the future of an entire region. Residents are well aware that without the massive cattle drives from Texas, Abilene wouldn’t exist, yet they grow increasingly alarmed by the violence and sin thousands of wild Texas cowboys bring with them. Some Abilene citizens are convinced the farmers flooding in to homestead free federal land represent the town’s salvation, if the dirt-poor sodbusters can overcome Kansas’ relentless summer heat and drought.

Young Will Merritt firmly supports the pro-cowboy faction, publicly shaming the stubble-jumpers at every opportunity. Abilene is the first real home fifteen-year-old Will and his family have known after following his vagabond father’s reckless dreams. Gregarious J.T. Merritt finally has found success as a land speculator. He’s an important man in town … until he gambles on a solution that will save the farmers and point Abilene in a new, more respectable, direction. Overnight, Will’s life — and his perspective — undergo a monumental change. Growing up can be bittersweet.

Nominated in two Peacemaker categories, Larry Bjornson’s Wide Open won the 2013 Best Western First Novel award against stiff competition. Though all of the nominees were worthy, Wide Open pulled away from the pack on the very first page. The nearly flawless writing is breathtaking, presenting cinematic panoramas, riveting action, and heartfelt emotion without ever compromising the first-person point of view, slowing the pace, or dipping into maudlin.

Bjornson’s voice is fresh and evocative; his effortless prose breathes astounding beauty, chuckle-worthy cleverness, and heart-rending pathos in equal measure. This is literature in the Steinbeck tradition.

Although wild and woolly certainly describes Bjornson’s Abilene and the surrounding Kansas prairie, Wide Open runs far deeper than a young man’s first-person adventure. Will’s journey is universal and profoundly moving. Regardless readers’ personal histories, they’ll recognize themselves in Will.

I cannot recommend Wide Open highly enough, as both an excellent story and an education in elevating fiction, regardless of genre, to art.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received a review copy of Wide Open from the author. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.


  1. This is a damn fine novel, and I'd recommend it highly to anyone.

  2. I haven't read it yet, but your review makes me want to run out and buy it right now. Sounds so interesting and like something I would love. Thanks for this great review, Kathleen!

  3. WIDE OPEN also won the Spur Award for Best Juvenile Fiction... though, as you can testify, it's for all ages.

  4. I'm looking forward to reading
    Wide Open. It sure sounds inviting.

  5. OOPS! I meant to mention the Spur Award and forgot! AUGH! Thanks for making sure that info got included, Troy. I'd be afraid to label WIDE OPEN "young adult" or "juvenile" -- not because it's inappropriate for that age group, but because the label might tempt adult readers to bypass the book, believing it lacks a certain level of sophistication. The latter is wholly untrue. :-)

    Cheryl, you would love WIDE OPEN. It's right up your alley. :-)

    Jerry, read the book. It's a Brawny paper towel of a novel: completely absorbing. ;-)

  6. GREAT novel, and it was a Finalist for the Spur Award Best First Novel too (category won by Brent Cogburn's Panhandle.) Wide Open is a "coming of age" story which deserved the Best Juvenile Spur Award, indeed.

  7. Great review, as always, Tex. This book is definitely one I want to read!

  8. And I agree with you, Kathleen, that it shouldn't be overlooked - there's a definitely maturity in the POV of the young hero, plus he meets Wild Bill Hickock! You can't beat that, along with the exciting pull-tug conflict between farmers and cowboys.

  9. Meg, Larry's portrayal of Hickok from a teen's eye view made the larger-than-life gunman/lawman/scout seem very real, didn't it? Added a whole new dimension to the folk hero. Will's dawning realization that this heroic character from dime novels was only human after all was one of the most charming elements of the book, IMO. :-)

    Jacquie, I'd love to know what you think once you've read WIDE OPEN. You have such a sharp wit and finely honed sense of irony that I bet you'll pick up on some subtleties I missed. ;-)

  10. Thanks for another great review. Although I understand the reason for the Adult/YA, a good story, well told is for any [assionate reader. Doris

  11. Now that's a review to be proud of, Kathleen. Sounds like a great story. Congratulations on the Spur Award.

  12. Doris, you are so right about that. Young adults will enjoy this book; if adults aren't moved by the story, I'll be tempted to think they expired and forgot to fall. ;-)

    Sarah, thank you so much for your kind words. The Spur is Larry's, so congratulations to him! WIDE OPEN also won the Forward National Literature Award and the Kansas Notable Book Award. If I were a historical fiction author with a book up for an award this year, I'd be worried. ;-)