First, let me say that I’m way overdue for reading this book. If you follow my blog, I mentioned one of the reasons you should be reading. I also mentioned I’d never read this book mostly because someone said I had to.
I’m sorry I waited. I complained to my buddy, JR Madrid about it. He teaches Spanish in the schools in Rocky Ford, Colorado, so he mailed me a copy. So here’s a shout out to JR, and a big thanks. I opened the book, read the first sentence, and went, “Dear God, this is going to be good.”
The events that happen in the book are by no means earthshattering. It’s the characters who make it what it is. Nichols gets inside their heads and shows us a people who have endured. They’ve been in the land for a long time, faced adversity, and while they seem poised on the knife-edge of extinction, as sure as the sun comes up, they’ll be there tomorrow. They’re survivors in every sense of the word.
But what a cast of characters. Joe Mondragon fits perfectly into the mold of a lot of people I’ve known. He’ll do whatever it takes to stay afloat, to include planting a bean field and watering it with water he supposedly has no rights to. I don’t know if this is an act of rebellion, desperation, or just don’t care, but it sets events into motion that has people concerned. He doesn’t set out to be a hero, doesn’t want to be a hero, but is cast into the role.
Along the way we have people who support him, take advantage of the situation to try to affect change, or just get swept along with the tide. We have a seemingly inept sheriff who at the end of it all isn’t so inept after all. We also have a woman who runs a pipe business and is a natural leader (and while it’s not said, she seems to find it’s more like leading cats). And last, but not least, a VISTA worker who’s so awkward and bumbling with women that he’d probably strike out in the red light district of Amsterdam.
It’s the characters who make the book. So if you’re a writer, check them out. This book could almost be a primer on how to write a character,
Along the way, Nichols mentions things that thrilled me, such as one of the characters reflecting about going to the feedlot in La Jara, Colorado and buying meat (we used to do that – Ranchers buying meat, what a concept – of course that’s another story). He described the area so perfectly that I think I could almost take you straight to where the action happened. I found myself casting the story with people I’ve known from the dozens of small towns in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. It was an enjoyable romp through a land I know well.
Mr. Nichols finishes this very well written book with a lament that this book is what most people will know him for (a problem I wouldn’t mind having). That said, I want to read more of what he’s written.