« Return to this article

Know the West

The fission of a New Mexican nuclear family


In this richly layered novel, author Bradford Morrow peels back the geography of New Mexico to reveal its unforgiving core of rock and scree. The Land of Enchantment is also a landscape haunted by nuclear testing during the 1950s, and it is within this rough physical and emotional terrain that Morrow sets his tale about the search for family and reconciliation.

In Ariel's Crossing, Ariel Rankin embarks on a search for her biological father, Kip Calder, after she learns that the man she calls dad is actually her stepfather. A former military man, Kip resurfaces in his home state of New Mexico, elderly and in failing health, after a life of running. Ariel's journey from New York City to northern New Mexico becomes a homecoming to her grandmother and aunt, and to the Southwest itself.

Morrow's writing sparkles as he describes the seductive effect the mystical landscape has on Ariel. "Sandy flats stretched between blackgreen globes of pinon and juniper billeted along arroyos and over the jagged flats in all directions. ... Masses of clouds heaped themselves with mythic luxuriance on the mountains. ... She rolled down the windows and her hair swarmed her head. Home for her could surely be here as much as back there."

Father and daughter finally find each other in an unlikely setting: a ranch confiscated 40 years ago, when the government expanded its atomic bomb testing site at White Sands Missile Range.

The West's infamous nuclear past is an important backdrop to Morrow's plot. The author of four previous novels, including The Almanac Branch and Trinity Fields, Morrow reminds us of the price we paid for Cold War security, in cancer clusters and displaced locals. In Morrow's masterful, poignant novel, the term "nuclear family" has more than one meaning. Ariel's Crossing by Bradford Morrow. Viking, Hardcover: $25.95. 389 pages.