Monday, January 16, 2012
Book Review: Unbroken
Jamie Lisa Forbes’ debut novel, Unbroken, is a WILLA Award recipient and worthy of this prestigious honor.
Gwen Swan’s life is an unbroken chain of cooking, helping her husband on their family cattle ranch, managing their children, Rory and McKenna, juggling finances, and working through Wyoming’s harsh winters and sweltering summers with seemingly few days of reprieve between seasons. Gwen’s hard-working husband Will centers his life around the ranch. His father John, a widower for most of Gwen and Will’s married life, lives in his own house, but takes his meals with his son’s family. John still calls most of the shots on the daily ranch activities. Will occasionally takes his own initiative, but when he does his father can be counted on to share his opinion.
It’s up to Gwen to deal with her son’s teachers and their disapproval of Rory’s behavior at school. When Will becomes aware of Rory’s trouble at home, his impatience is obvious, but Rory’s grandfather helps smooth over hurt feelings. Rory especially basks in his grandfather’s love.
Will’s brother, long estranged from the family, appears and old bitterness and resentments resurface, further straining their lives.
Meg Braeburn and her young son Tim have broken away from her family’s ranch. She’s made mistakes but is determined to make a good life for them. She’s hired as a hand on a ranch neighboring Swan’s. The absent owner leaves all the work to her, with a stringy, unkept horse, rusty equipment and unrealistic expectations. Meg surprises them all with her ability and drive, and her resoluteness.
Before long Gwen and Meg become friends, their children play, though Rory often bullies Jim. The ranchers support and help one another with time, equipment and friendship.
The isolation and closeness of the two families begins to take their toll and boundaries are crossed. The dynamics of splintering families is painful and everyone’s way of life is affected.
Unbroken is a powerful, absorbing book from the first page to the last. Forbes’ Wyoming ranch background adds rich flavors to the story. The author draws realistic, complex characters. Unbroken is an unvarnished testimonial to a way of life that few of us know.