Not fade away

 

Monument Road:A Novel
Charlie Quimby
365 pages, softcover:
$16.95.
Torrey House Press, 2013.

Rancher Leonard Self is the type of elderly man who keeps "his shades drawn, his talk necessary, his actions to the problem at hand." In the wake of his wife Inetta's death, he's been winnowing his ranch goods, his farmhouse, his life itself, succumbing to a darkening that "was not pain but bone-deep numbness. Not nightmares but short dreamless sleep and long wakefulness. Not chaos but an empty, unbudging sameness. …" On the anniversary of Inetta's passing, he plans to scatter her ashes off a cliff – and leap to his own death.

Len, the protagonist of Charlie Quimby's Monument Road, is a thoroughgoing old codger who doesn't know how to live without his wife or deal with the changes in his Western town. He doesn't know what to make of the tattooed waitresses slinging pizza to cheerful mountain bikers. He still buys his gas with cash, mends his clothing and makes do.

The beginning of the book reads more like a series of short stories than a novel, and it isn't until much later that the separate plot threads start tangling, some naturally, others in a more contrived manner. Monument Road may be based in Colorado, but Quimby, a Western blogger, is really writing about the modern Western experience, about the changing rural landscape and the troubled foster kids, eager real estate agents, taciturn ranch hands, quilt-makers, alcoholics, cancer victims, dramatic teens, religious zealots and snow-stranded horses that inhabit it. Few of his characters escape. Many flounder; some perish.

In Quimby's world, it seems everyone is in danger of falling, either literally, as from cliffs, or figuratively, as into darkness. No one is allowed to burn too brightly. Those who send off sparks, who spread their wings, fall especially hard.  The lucky ones get a second chance, usually years later, but even those second chances, like much of the novel itself, are subtle. Many of the most likable characters die, others wander off the page. People survive, but it's hard to say many of them really live within the limits of their current environment.

Quimby's prose fits his subjects perfectly. It's clean, well-made and largely utilitarian, though the ranchland poetics flash now and again, surprising both his characters and readers. A kid learning to smoke reclines on a rock and lets "his heartbeat slow as the sky turn(s) from the daytime's enameled blue bowl into a deep black broth filled with fairy dust." This is a book of confessions and connections, fear, forgiveness and, ultimately, the stirrings of redemption. It suggests that it's far better to try to adapt than just fade into black.

High Country News Classifieds
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.