San Juan Sunrise, a debut self-published novel by Edward Lehner, tells the story of Jenny Morse. Lehner, a local, also features Durango as an important character in Jenny’s story. It is always a little thrill to read about places that you know and may pass by every day, and Lehner does a great job describing Durango and Durangoans.
As San Juan Sunrise opens, Jenny is coming down from the mountains after a summer spent backpacking north of Durango. She has spent the time mostly alone and she is comfortable with that. She seems to have a severe case of distrust of her fellow humans, especially men.
Jenny is tired, dirty and looking forward to getting to the north valley, where she has spent the last two winters living in a small, rustic cabin. Unfortunately, Jenny has waited too long to come down to the valley, as the weather has turned cold and is threatening to snow. To add to her bad luck, when she arrives, she discovers that sometime over the summer the cabin has burned down to the ground.
Now Jenny really is in trouble, and she starts toward town trying to hitch a ride. When it becomes clear there is little traffic, she starts looking for a place to camp out, even though her equipment isn’t enough for the cold weather. She happens on a cozy looking ranch and asks the owner for permission to stay overnight on his property. He is gruff and not welcoming but finally gives her permission.
Overnight, an early, severe snowstorm covers the valley and Jenny, verging on hypothermia, goes to the door again and asks for help. The owner looks at the situation and invites her in to get warm. After entering into the home and really meeting the owner, Will, Jenny’s life changes dramatically.
It develops that Will is a published author and Jenny is an aspiring writer. During conversations over breakfast, Will and Jenny share a love of books, authors and literature. Jenny finds herself drawn to this man as a father figure while still fighting her fear and lack of trust of other people. Soon – very soon – Jenny finds herself living in Will’s bunkhouse and meeting and making friends in Durango.
Things for Jenny do not run smoothly, and it becomes clear that events in her past are coming between her and the potential for a new life. It seems that Jenny and her brother were raised in a commune in California with their father and a horrible woman, Dory, who they thought was their mother. They suffered from neglect and abuse, and Jenny especially was targeted by the woman.
Jenny was finally able to escape after her 18th birthday when she received a surprise package from her grandparents who lived in Denver. They took her in, helped her go to college, and because they had a lot of money, established a trust for her. After graduating, she moved to Durango and began her solitary, wandering lifestyle.
Now, all the emotions Jenny bottled up and buried are blocking her from becoming the person she longs to be. Taking Will’s advice, she begins seeing a therapist, and when all the ugly things that happened come to the surface, she becomes overwhelmed, behaves badly and basically runs away. She ends up in Sedona, Arizona, and discovers other tools to help her journey of healing.
As Lehner shares Jenny’s path to recovery, he exposes readers to talk therapy, group therapy, new age practices involving crystals, vortices and out-of-body experiences. It seems that many different methods are necessary to bring Jenny peace, love and contentment and put to rest the demons from her past. Perhaps the author wants to provide readers with the many options available to therapists these days to help people lead happy, productive lives.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.