Parched lives in a parched land: A review of the Ordinary Truth

 

The Ordinary Truth
Jana Richman
375 pages, softcover: $16.95.
Torrey House Press, 2012.

Traditionally, springs and wells are centers of life around which people gather and sometimes form communities. In Utah author Jana Richman's second novel, The Ordinary Truth, metropolitan claims to desert waters unsettle a small town and pit one family's members against each other. Shifting between the perspectives of several Nevada women, Richman unravels secrets and half-truths -- a multigenerational quilt of residents near life's "sad, hard edges."

The youngest protagonist, Cassie, a webmaster and "reassuring decoy" for shy customers at a Carson City whorehouse, was raised by her ranching grandmother, Nell, who's been tasked with taming Cassie's feral nature. But the two women grew close, bonded by their strained relationship with Kate, Cassie's mother and Nell's daughter. Kate, emotionally crippled by the childhood loss of her beloved father in a hunting accident, now works for the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas. Her uneasy coexistence with her mother -- like two strangers "living in a perpetual elevator" -- sours when Kate announces her agency's plans for a pipeline that will drain Great Basin valleys, depleting the aquifer that waters the family spread ruled by the septuagenarian, no-nonsense Nell.

Grandmother and granddaughter form an unlikely yet true-to-life alliance: that of rancher and budding environmentalist. Besides Cassie's summer job at the brothel -- a half-baked ploy to unite the family in an intervention on her behalf -- she attends the program of environmental studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a field suggested by her grandma. "I don't know what happens when three stubborn women each take up ground waiting for the others to move," Cassie admits, "but I aim to find out."

Without taking sides, Richman -- a sixth-generation Utahn from the west desert -- paints a canvas of long-pending and much-dreaded water wars. Laced with cowboy humor and the cadences of rural speech but also referencing big-city skyscrapers, therapy sessions, and The White Stripes, this tale of estrangement encapsulates the discordant New West. The writing, refreshingly, subverts some clichés; Kate scoffs at herself for envisioning her late father as a weathered cowboy riding off into the sunset. Though the setting is modern, the subject is timeless: loyalty to family and to the land -- according to Nell, the only two things that really matter in the world. And in Nell's assessment of this ordinary truth: "A person ought never to have to choose between those two things."

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Crested Butte Land Trust seeks a development director to lead its fundraising efforts. Remote and unspoiled, Crested Butte is located in one of the Rockies...
  • PRICE REDUCED $94,300 - LOT SOUTH OF MONTROSE
    5-Acre Home Site, Great Views with Spectacular Sunsets From a South Facing Home Site. Excellent for Passive Solar Design. Covenants, No HOA. Keller Williams Co....
  • CHARMING HOME/FARM NEAR CLIFF, NM
    3 bed/2 bath, detached strawbale building. 11.7 acres, barn, corrals, fenced. Wells, solar panels, greenhouses. Paved access. 575-535-2568.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    WildEarth Guardians seeks two public interest-focused staff attorneys with a minimum of 5 years experience to join our legal team. Experience with at least some...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF NEW MEXICO WILDLIFE FEDERATION
    The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is seeking an Executive Director, a visionary leader who is passionate about public lands, dedicated to executing an innovative strategic...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE SPECIALIST I
    HIGH COUNTRY NEWS Customer Service Specialist I General Statement of Duties: Works closely with the customer service manager performing high-volume routine computer database work. Also...
  • FINANCE ASSOCITE
    We are hiring a Finance Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits, based in Bozeman,MT Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for details GYC is an equal opportunity employer
  • ARAVAIPA LAND STEWARD
    The Aravaipa Land Steward coordinates preserve stewardship work and general operations including maintenance and general preserve management. Implements preserve management plans, which may include species...
  • VP OF DEVELOPMENT
    seeks a talented and dynamic development professional, with a passion for protecting our natural environment, to lead our development and fundraising team.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society seeks an Executive Director in Denver, CO to serve as the Chief Administrator of the national Native American...
  • DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANT
    High Country News seeks a development assistant to assist with fundraising campaigns. HCN is an award-winning, national news magazine. Strong candidates will have experience administering...
  • LAND ACQUISTIONS SPECIALIST - RENEWABLE ENERGY
    Energiekontor US seeks experienced local candidate, must reside in western South Dakota. Send resume and cover letter to: [email protected]
  • WILDLAND FIRE INSTRUCTOR
    Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...