The Widow Smalls and Other Stories by Jamie Lisa ForbesPronghorn Press (2014), Paperback, 232 pages
A collection of beautiful, well-written, bittersweet (for want of a better word) westerns. There is a degree of romance to these stories but not the kind that word usually conjures. These stories are sad and melancholy but the also focus on self-examination, retribution, and excepting ones past, mistakes and all. Lovely collection!
1. Ramona Dietz - A rural story set in the 1950s deals with many issues. A wealthy young man and his childless wife run a ranch the father bought. The man has father issues and takes his wife for granted. As a new hired hand couple come to the ranch he finds someone whom he can relate to in the 16yo wife and further issues of insest and abuse are explored until finally the farmer stops to examine his own life. Well-written, with a focus on characters and themes. (4/5)
2. Lincoln's Nephew - Another story of a ranch hand, this time taking place in the 1930s. The hand looks like Abe Lincoln and says he was his Uncle. Narrated by an old man back when he was a young boy he tells the tale of Lincoln's time on their ranch. This is a tale of Desire and the trouble wanting more and trying to look big can not only get you but what kind of man it can turn you into as well. Well-written and haunting. Really liked this. (5/5)
3. His Mild Yoke - A lovely timeless rural farm story. A tale of woe and life's hardship, taking these things in stride as they come. A little girl, probably about five, narrates perhaps six months of her life where tragedy after tragedy occurs, some worse than others. It all plays out to the meaning of a poem by Milton. (4/5)
4. Crack-the-Whip - Again we have a rural story that could be set at about anytime from the mid 20th century on. Narrated by a Mormon man, he talks of the day his high-school dropout daughter comes home for the first time at Thanksgiving. He assumes she's going to come back but she's determined to be independent in the city. He has a strained relationship with her and we find out that he's a domineering father and all of his children have great dislike for him. This and the next day become pivotal in their lives. I am really enjoying Forbes writing at this point and looking forward to the next story! (5/5)
5. The Good War - This is the longest story so far, more a novella than short story. It starts with the boy and his sister as children and ends with them at married/marriageable age. The setting is against the background of WWII and again we have a family of ranchers. We start by seeing them as independent owners but quickly the next year they are foreclosed upon, move and become the hired managers of a wealthy man's small ranch. this is a tale of woe, hardship, class privilege, loneliness and grief. But underneath it's backbone is the story of siblings who spend an entire life arguing and antagonizing each other until at the moment of greatest loss, they realise their intense need for each other. Brilliant! (5/5)
6. The Widow Smalls - A really beautiful classic western. It's a tale of romance and one of a woman who finds her own self after the death of her husband of thirty years. The story is timeless; we feel it happens some time in the past but it is modern enough (could be 50s to 80s to me) and Leah Smalls is always referred to as "old" or the widow but from doing a little figuring she is probably only in her mid-fifties. The writing is simply beautiful. I loved this lady and the Mexican hand who came to help her out. The only downfall here is that the plot is predictable but the story is more about the woman's coming into herself than plot. (4/5)