Picks and Pans Review: Marchlands
This lyrical first novel from 43-year-old Karla Kuban, a former court reporter flush with literary promise, rides on the squared shoulders of a young girl in trouble. Sophie Behr is not yet 16 and lives alone with her alcoholic mother on a Wyoming sheep ranch. Her father vanished when she was 4; her brother joined the Army. Sophie is pregnant and not quite sure she loves the baby's father, an 18-year-old ranch hand from Mexico. She knows she loves her horse and the stark beauty of the Plains. "I'm attached to this land by my feet," she says.
Wise in the ways of animals and men, fierce in her own defense, Sophie is part child, part woman, all hero. Her voice is warm and wild. To calm herself, she says, "Think of stars bumping against black, like blood through a throat vein."
Marchlands begins on a sensual, mysterious note. When her mom cracks and Sophie sets out to find her dad, the novel turns darker, though. It remains gloomy when she finally returns to the ranch but not without glimmers of hope. Kuban's novel may not be flawless, but Sophie's fans—and there will be many—won't notice. (Scribner, $23)
Bottom Line: A western without the testosterone—and a lovely debut
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