Backlands: A Novel of the American West. Michael McGarrity. Penguin Group (USA). May 2014. 512 pp. ISBN#: 9780525953241.
Emma Kerney is dying of heart disease and is determined to insure that her son, Matthew, eight years old at the beginning of this novel, will be financially secure. She’s also determined that her ex-husband, Patrick, a drinker and all-around nasty individual, will be able to touch very little of what she’s leaving for Matthew. While she has a sudden upswing in her health, she accomplishes all she set out to do and even has some amicable moments with Patrick. But life is never that simple, and eventually Matthew is left with only his father to raise him. At first it all goes well as Patrick tries to train Matthew in riding and caring for horses, Matthew’s great love. Matthew’s ultimate goal, however, is to finish high school and attend college, a dream Patrick mocks!
As time passes, we read the remainder of the story of Matthew, Patrick, the New Mexican Spanish residents, including one who eventually marries Patrick for a short time. This is the story of survival in the lean years of the early twenties and thirties, when these New Mexico residents were faced with drought and the Great Crash that financially destroyed people in this community as well as throughout America.
Matthew, however, evolves into one determined, hard-working man. As his relationship with his father deteriorates, his luck in obtaining work with the CCC of Roosevelt’s administration and other choices force him into becoming the owner and caretaker of the ranch his father used to run.
Without giving away the many exciting, challenging scenes in this novel, suffice to say it’s a great novel of the West and a story of the Darwinian struggle to persist and succeed at living and working in a beautiful but tough land beloved by so many – the Great American West! Very nicely crafted, Michael McGarrity!