Crossing hearts on Colorado's plains
by Malcolm McCollumLaura Pritchett’s first novel, Sky Bridge, is set in "Nowhere, Colorado," on the ranchland east of the plains town of Lamar. In this tiny place assaulted by big forces — climate change, the global economy, federal policies — teenage narrator Libby finds the prospects slim: "… all my old schoolmates are either doing drugs or working minimum wage or in jail ... "
But Libby, her younger sister Tess, their mother Kay, and Baxter, the rancher who provides Kay both a job and a ramshackle house, have neither time nor inclination to analyze the forces that are "crashing up their lives." They have only hope, compassion and a stubborn determination to cope with what must be coped with, including the results of their own bad decisions or inattention.
One of these results is baby Amber, the consequence of Tess’ casual one-nighter with Simon, a proud member of the Cowboy Christian Fellowship. The baby is saved from abortion by Libby, who promises to raise her.
Putting cans of formula away in the cupboard, reluctant new grandmother Kay observes, " ‘I don’t know why they take the thing that’s most important to an infant and kill us with the price.’
‘Who?’ Libby inquires.
‘Them,’ she says, her hands flying around to the outside world."
Pritchett perfectly captures the rhythms and emphases of everyday speech in this unpretentious novel. Her characters may have been abandoned to their own devices by a government owned and operated by multi-national corporations. But they retain a dignity that makes them impossible to dismiss. As Libby’s employer, Frank, says, "People look out for each other."
It is in that "looking out" that Pritchett, and Libby, find hope. By novel’s end, Libby has learned this: "I’ll figure out how to be truer: to let people go if they need to be let go of, and to hold on tight if that’s what’s called for. I will pay attention, so I can cross each human heart that comes across my path, cross it as true as I can."
© High Country News