Cover image for Fencing the sky : a novel
Fencing the sky : a novel
Galvin, James.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Holt, 1999.
Physical Description:
258 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A John Macrae book."
Format :


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After Mike Arans accidentally kills Merriweather Snipes, he leaves a confession note in the dead man's pocket, and rides west, in a tale about out-of-control events and the American West.

Author Notes

Celebrated poet, nonfiction writer, and (now) novelist James Galvin is the author of The Meadow (Owl Books, 0-8050-2703-3, $12.00) and a teacher at the University of Iowa writer's program. He lives in Laramie, Wyoming, where he has worked as a rancher part of each year all his life.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Once you get past this novel's stereotypes and its morality of "thou shalt get away with murder if thou art righteous enough," the beauty of Galvin's naturalist prose takes hold and the story becomes one of deep friendship and idealism. It's a reinvented western (where, for instance, the rowdies are not drunken cowboys but wasted juvenile delinquents) as befits the modern, demythologized West, placing Galvin in the same line as Larry McMurtry: the old struggles over land and water and mineral rights are countered by a faith in one's community. The story is centered around former antiwar radical Mike Arans, on the run after having accidentally murdered Meriweather Snipes, a land speculator. His pursuer is an Apache Vietnam vet named Jim Thomas who, while not exactly a friend, holds Arans in respect. Oscar Rose and Adkisson Trent, the novel's most interesting characters, are his friends; and as the story hopscotches back and forth through 30 years, the reader comes to understand how their lives shaped their worldviews and how the ties of friendship bound these three men. --Frank Caso

Publisher's Weekly Review

True to form, this post-Cormac McCarthy western by first-time novelist, poet and nonfiction writer (The Meadow) Galvin is heavy on biblical cadences, macho philosophy and metaphor. Land developer Merriweather Snipes likes to harass cattle in his off-road vehicle, and when he is murdered in the act, lassoed around the neck by cattle owner Mike Arans, none of his Larimer County, Colo., neighbors mourns his death. By selling acreage that used to be ranch land to suburbanites looking for country homes, Snipes had already made himself extremely unpopular with the recently widowed Mike , Mike's neighbor Oscar Rose and Snipes's own neighbor Doctor Adkisson Trent. The disrespectful newcomers bring with them traffic, ignorance of water and range use, and hoodlum children. So Snipes's murder is considered more of a lucky accident by the county's original inhabitants, who help Mike escape. The story follows a double track. On one side it trails Mike as he slips down paths in the National Forest, pursued by Apache tracker and Vietnam vet Jim Thomas. Alternately, Galvin provides a series of micro-histories of the decline of ranching culture, as exemplified in the lives of Ad and Oscar, who are native to the country, and Mike, who migrated as a hippie refugee in the '70s. Galvin's prose tries for some combination of the laconic and the sublime, but too often devolves into such imprecise lyricism as "His laugh was like a school bus, big, capricious, bright." Still, the patchwork quality of the narrative serves the story well, and the author's vision of a new American West populated by a motley collection of old-timers and newcomers rings true. In its more relaxed moments, the novel gives readers a worthwhile glimpse of the small-scale rancher's endangered world. Regional author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

One day while rounding up stray cattle, student radical turned Colorado cowboy Mike Arans encounters urban real estate developer Merriweather Snipes riding his ATV across the range. In a seemingly out-of-character action, Mike ropes him, pulling him off the ATV and killing him. As the novel moves between past and present, Mike's attempts to stay a step ahead of Apache master tracker Jim Thomas are set against the long-simmering conflict between Snipes's values and those of the older ranching community. The pursuit culminates at the entrance to an underground river, where Mike decides on a course of action that will mean either freedom or death. While Snipes is something of a cardboard villain, this is a relatively minor flaw. In his first novel, Galvin, better known as a poet and nonfiction writer, has created a passionate and lyrical chronicle of cultural clashes in the contemporary West. Recommended.√ĄLawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.