Where hope lingers like sagebrush on the wind

In his latest collection of Western tales, Percival Everett searches for the good in range life.

 

Uplifting endings are as popular in Western literature as umbrellas in the desert. Sad stories sell. Desperados that inhabit notable works of renowned writers like Annie Proulx and Sherman Alexie tend toward drunken violence and tragic denouements.

Percival Everett, an African-American author of nearly 30 books, takes a different tack in his new collection of nine short stories, Half an Inch of Water. No matter what crisis Everett unloads on his characters, hope lingers like the scent of sagebrush in the wind.

They tend to get lost, physically and emotionally, as they search the wilderness for meaning. Sometimes they find themselves by connecting with others whose hardscrabble lives appear grounded in reality. In Everett’s world, people need each other to survive.

In “A High Lake,” a lonely widow loses her way on horseback in the mountains with fearless abandon. “Dying in the saddle was a romantic way to go, she thought.”

A single parent in “Exposure,’’ worried about losing ties with a teenaged daughter, tries to show his love for her on an outing to Burnt Lake. Spot-on dialogue between clumsy dad and rebellious child foreshadows doom when a cougar enters the scene.

A 14-year-old boy in “Stonefly,” whose sister drowned years ago in a river, goes fishing to ease the burden he feels from distraught parents. Everett paints this scene with understated detail, and some of the most elegant writing of this collection. In a scene reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams’ stories, Everett writes:

 “He cast the fly out and it disturbed the water awfully. But as soon as it landed, the big fish was on it. The trout bit the fly and pulled it deep. Daniel suffered from trigger lock. He was frozen, shocked. He finally gave a yank to set the hook. The trout took off downstream.”

The finest story, “Little Faith,” exposes a cultural gap in the West that Everett describes deftly. 

When a white rancher with a pregnant mare in dire straits confesses to his African-American veterinarian, “You know, you’re okay,” the doctor responds, “How’s that?” The rancher confesses, “You know, being a black vet out here, I had my doubts.”

Not all nine stories are winners. “Finding Billy Whitefeather” has a mystical quality that stumbles over a weak plot. “Liquid Glass” gets Stephen King-ish: it’s about a box containing a severed head and not much else.

Nobody escapes unscathed in Everett’s fiction. His world operates according to Darwin’s rules, but however bleak it appears, it teems with convincing characters, persistent folks who figure out how to survive. 

Half an Inch of Water: Stories
Percival Everett
163 pages,
softcover: $16.
Graywolf Press, 2015.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • VERDE RIVER PROJECTS TECHNICIAN
    The Verde River Projects Technician (VRPT) provides technical assistance to Verde River Program staff in implementation of the Verde River Streamflow Monitoring Protocol. This consist...
  • 8 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • SOUTHWEST REWILDING ADVOCATE
    WildEarth Guardians is seeking a full-time advocate in our Wild Places Program to advance a new paradigm of forest management and protection based on the...