The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up on the Big Dry – Joe Wilkins (2012, Counterpoint, Berkeley)
This memoir completely knocks you up side of the head with its lyrical, powerful prose and bittersweet recollections of growing up in a region of Montana called the Big Dry. A permanently drought stricken land is populated by beleaguered, hard living farmers and ranchers trying to eke out an existence, constantly railing against poverty and death. Wilkins is the son of one of those men, although his father came to the Big Dry by choice, not by birth, and died too soon, leaving his wife and children broken and nearly penniless. The Mountain and the Fathers is Wilkins’ search for a father figure, a reconciliation (of sorts) with the pervasive, demanding landscape, and a beautiful tribute to the people he grew up with, all the men and women who came into his life and made their marks. Some of the stories are not pretty – Wilkins witnessed plenty of tragedy and doesn’t hold anything back. But it’s the way he tells them that really affected me; there is real love in these words, a need to properly eulogize all that was lost to him and somehow find a new way.