Under Wyoming Skies
by Henry Sage
This book was written by an author in the writer's roundtable I host locally. I have enjoyed hearing parts of this story and watching it develop over the past year, so it was wonderful to finally get to read the finished product!
This is more a story about a place than about characters. I was definitely taken right back to my trips through Wyoming as a kid while reading this. The author does a magnificent job of bringing Wyoming alive in these pages. We see the geography, the mix of cultures, the businesses (ranches, mostly), the celebrations and events, and the values of the area. The whole way of life is examined through the eyes of out-of-towners there on vacation to stay with their family on a ranch, and they (like the reader inevitably must) fall in love with Wyoming.
The rest of the book fell a little short for me, though overall I did enjoy it. Things fell in place far too quickly for me; I would have liked a much longer, more involved story. When Kelly and her teenagers head out to Wyoming, they fall in love and think about staying. But can they? Kelly's son goes from never having ridden a horse to falling in love with his job on the ranch (and crushing on one of the Cherokee hired hands on the ranch). Kelly's daughter forms a sisterly bond with said hired hand and they solidify it with a Cherokee ritual, binding them together as sisters for life. Kelly meets a man and starts dating him. We get the story only from Kelly's point of view. So we only get to know what her kids are thinking and experiencing when they tell her. So we don't get told about bonds they're creating, but we don't see it as much as I would have liked. But everything's obviously perfect for them in Wyoming. However, they do have friends back home and Kelly has a job managing a chain of hardware stores in Pennsylvania. Can they really just pick up and change their lives so significantly? Yes. Obviously, yes. The few obstacles in their way are dealt with so quickly, there's pretty much no opposition or conflict in the story. The kids' father shows up and out of the blue and doesn't want them to move out there, then he realizes the kids are happy and is not only fine with it, he makes changes in his life to allow it. She has a job back home, but then the company gets bought out and she gets a severance package that gives her all the money she needs in order to make the move. Not really much of anything standing in their way. The outcome is obvious from the beginning, so it's hard to believe when characters are spending half the book deciding. Things magically fall into line around them so easily to make the move a possibility, which was a little disappointing to me.
I really would have liked this book to have been twice as long, filled with more of their personal struggles, amplifying the obstacles, and making the decision-making process more difficult and complex. I felt like so many aspects were only just touched on. They go on a quick tour of the capital to get to know their home, for example, and that lasts only a page or two at most. But other parts of the book have unnecessary repetition.
As it is, though, it's not hard to see why Kelly and her kids chose to move to Wyoming. As the central thing in the novel, the place has such character. I truly enjoyed the exploration of it. Despite its few faults, I definitely still enjoyed reading it. They're good characters to get to know and it's a really well written depiction of life on a ranch in Wyoming.