In her earlier novel South of Resurrection
, Jonis Agee seemed bent on refuting Thomas Wolfe: you can go home again, though sometimes it's easier not to. The Weight of Dreams
finds her returning to the same thematic territory in a sweeping, ambitious novel about nothing less than good and evil, writ on a vast Western scale. Home, for Ty Bonte, is the hardscrabble Nebraska Sandhills, where he's been doing "a man's work" on the family ranch since the age of 8. Unfortunately, he's also been taking a man's share of punishment--his mother's abandonment, his father's abuse, even his own guilt over his baby brother's accidental death. Small wonder, then, that Ty turns into something of a delinquent, especially when he joins forces with Harney Rivers. Rich kid, sadist, drug dealer--"the boy who could put his hands on anything illegal"--Harney gets Ty into even more trouble than he could on his own. When they pick up a pair of Indian hitchhikers one bitterly cold winter night, the violence that subsequently erupts will change all four of their lives forever.
Twenty years later, Ty is living in Kansas, where he owns a small, hard-won farm and trades horses for a living. He's made a sober, reasonably successful life for himself, but is still haunted by the repercussions of his past--which include an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Then one day Ty picks up a mysterious woman named Dakota along with a load of horses, and the past comes knocking on his door in the form of Harney Rivers. Before the novel is through, Ty will have to make amends for the crimes of his youth--and in the process, redefine what it means to go home. Gritty depictions of ranch life; lyrical evocations of the stark Nebraska landscape; a romance that feels both passionate and true: there is much to admire here, even when the entire package feels somewhat overlong. For one thing, Agee evokes the horse life so vividly that you can practically smell it--and among her characters, only the impossibly evil Harney comes off as less than true-to-life. In the end, flaws like these count for little when weighed against Agee's vivid portrait of place. --Chloe Byrne
From Publishers Weekly
Though Agee's fourth novel is oddly book-ended between two courtroom scenes, its strength is in what lies betweenA its depiction of the landscape of the Nebraska Sand Hills country, the unforgiving weather, the gritty demands of ranching andthe relationships forged between people and the animals they care for. In 1975, teenage Ty Bonte's family has been ravaged by the accidental death of his little brother. Ty is brutalized by his drunken father and unloved by his pious mother. Moreover, he keeps bad company; his villainous chum, Harney Rivers, is a small town rich boy whose cruel exploits continually go unpunished. One night, Ty and Harney beat two drunken Indian men and leave them for dead; the men survive only because Ty goes back to save them, before fleeing the state. This event is reconstructed in flashback; most of the book takes place 22 years later, when Ty is a horse trader, living modestly in Kansas. Harney, now a prosperous banker in their old Nebraska town, reenters his old buddy's life, killing Ty's beloved horse and stealing the rest of his stable, savagely beating Ty, and threatening Dakota, the woman with whom Ty has established a promising though uncertain relationship. Ty and Dakota return to Ty's family ranch, where his father is dying of emphysema and his mother is still priggish and cold. The families of the brutalized Indians seek justice, if not revenge, and Ty stands to lose everything: his woman, his ranch, his freedom. This tale of a sympathetic but busted-up man is compelling, but here the narrative suddenly diffuses, weighted down with too many characters who engage in endless machinations either to save Ty or to hurt him. Agee (Strange Angels) is best in engaging the drama of the rugged countryside. In tying up the plot, her direction scatters and each ambitious subplot grows broad and thin, diminishing the central struggle. Agent, Emma Sweeney. Author tour. (July)
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