Monday, June 24, 2013
Review Roundup: Wide Open
By Larry Bjornson
Berkley Books, June 2012
$28.00 hardcover, ISBN 1410460584
$15.00 paperback, ISBN 0425247481
$15.00 Kindle, ASIN B0074VTH6G
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.