The flinty, fighting lesbians on the neighboring ranch may be the happiest couple in Alison Hagy's fine novel of the new West, Boleto [Kindle], unless you count the hero, 23 year-old Will Testerman, and his beloved but unnamed filly. In the opening scene, he spends all his savings to buy her, and plans to train her in order to sell her, yet even so their relationship is deeper and more respectful than most of the human pairings. Will's father is a bitter, failed rancher who runs a dying printing shop; his mother is struggling with her second bout of breast cancer; his brothers are selfish and stubborn; and his one serious girlfriend got pregnant by someone else. The action follows Will and his horse through three seasons in different places: spring with his family in Lost Cabin, Wyoming; summer at a just-barely-hanging-on guest ranch east of Yellowstone; fall at an absent Argentine's polo estate in California. These shifts allow Hagy to explore the overlapping clashes of the mythic old West and the new reality, working families and the very rich, dependence and power, injury and redemption. Most of the novel is surprisingly, wonderfully open-ended and under-explained, which may make the too-neat ending seem simplistic.
The Wyoming sections take place in an area I've visited eighteen times in the past nine years and I can attest to Hagy's skill in evoking the dry grandeur of the landscape and her talent for illuminating the complex inner lives of the tight-lipped locals. Especially recommended for fans of elegiac yet clear-eyed fiction from Annie Proulx, Wallace Stegner, Ron Carlson, and Kent Haruf (who finally has a new novel coming next March). Hagy's Ghosts of Wyoming won a High Plains Book Award.