Former Durangoan Rebecca Clarren has released her first novel, “Kickdown.” Her experience as a journalist here and in Paonia led to her working for High Country News. As an investigative reporter, Clarren traveled extensively, and she developed a real understanding of small-town living, especially in the rural West. This led to a beautifully crafted portrayal of the novel’s setting, fictional Silt, Colorado – also a real place.
As we meet the characters, there has been a huge family loss. Set in the recent past, change has come to the agrarian society where ranching and hard work have been a way of life. Recently, the gas industry moving into the area has wrought many changes. Representatives are combing the ranches, offering a lot of money for mineral rights. Now, Silt is cluttered with gas wells and newcomers who work in the fields.
Sisters Susan and Jackie Dunbar are coping with the recent death of their father. Since they lost their mother to a car accident when Jackie was 8, Susan at 15 had to take over raising her. The family ranch needs so much work, but now Susan seems incapable of doing anything.
Clarren does a great job of describing the huge amount of backbreaking work needed to run a cattle ranch. All the fascinating, small details ring true and add to a world that draws readers into it.
As “Kickdown” opens, it is March and winter is starting to lose its grip. Two events bring extra hardship and worry to the town and causes Ray Stark, a deputy sheriff, to be put on probation. A veteran of the Iraq war and high school friend of the sisters, he is having major problems adjusting to civilian life. He carries a load of guilt and is most likely suffering from PTSD, which he is self-medicating with abundant amounts of alcohol.
When strange things start to happen at the ranches, the issue of fracking and hazards from the gas wells start to worry some. Clarren has done massive research and communicates clearly the issues surrounding gas mining and the different stances people in affected communities take.
In addition to addressing an issue that is impacting many rural Western communities, Clarren plumbs the complicated relationship of siblings and family. The specter of losing the ranch, the only home they’ve ever known, has the sisters in a constant state of stress.
Clarren has created a novel that will draw readers into the choices faced by the characters. They struggle with life-altering decisions, but all is not grim; there is beauty and hope, too.
This novel is only a first step by Clarren toward a bright new career as an author of fiction that moves and educates readers.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.