Sarah Hulse is a recently hired fiction writer who teaches in the creative writing program at UNR. Her first novel, “Back River” (published under the name of S.M. Hulse) is now out in paperback from Mariner Books.
The novel is the story of a man who was formerly a guard at a prison in Black River, Montana. After losing his wife to leukemia in the opening sections of the novel, he receives an invitation to testify at a parole hearing for the man who tormented him during a riot at the prison twenty years ago. And, then there’s the attempts at reconciliation with his stepson who parted ways years ago after an armed confrontation.
Hulse does an excellent job of conjuring the realities of life in a small town where everyone knows what everyone is doing and, in this case, where everyone knows either someone who’s in the joint or working as a guard.
Comparisons to the work of Bill Kittredge, Annie Proulx and Larry McMurtry are justly deserved but Hulse’s tale is very much her own.
The narrative dips back and forth in time and is told in spare, elegiac and lyrical prose, evocatively evoking both the Montana landscape and the interior struggles and realizations of its characters, dealing with the aftermath of violence, revenge and the possibility of forgiveness.
Another compelling debut novel is “The Never Open Desert Diner” (Crown Publishers) by James Anderson.
This is a tale of a desert where people might go to escape their past. A story of a trucker who travels a less-than-little traveled road in the scrublands of Utah., where it seems lots of folks have landed in their attempts to hide from the rest of the world. It is his job to deliver supplies to this band of itinerant misfits.
The only so-called landmark visible in these barren hinterlands is what was once a legendary Well Known Diner that hasn’t been open in years. Things get complicated when Ben, the trucker, comes across Claire, a beautiful naked woman playing cello all alone in an abandoned tract housing development.
Soon a pack of dangerous men come looking for Claire and the couple begins to unravel the stories of the residents of the area and what really happened years ago at the now never open diner.
Equal parts mystery, thriller, love story and evocation of a beautiful desolate landscape, the novel’s quirky characters bring to mind the work of James Crumley and his ne’er-do-well protagonist, Milo Milodragovitch, and Anderson continues that tradition in some truly fine, whimsical, quirkily surreal and riveting prose.
Kirk Robertson covers the arts and may be reached at email@example.com