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Snow, Ashes: A Novel by Alyson Hagy

Snow, Ashes: A Novel

by Alyson Hagy

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SNOW, ASHES is the first Alyson Hagy book I've read (she has written several), but I'm pretty sure it won't be the last, because this one held me from page one. She is that good a writer. Set in Wyoming (native Virginian Hagy teaches at the University of Wyoming, Laramie), SNOW, ASHES tells the story of sheepman John Fremont Adams (hmm ... as in John Fremont, the "Pathfinder" of the 19th century American West?) and his friend, C.D. Hobbs, taking them from their childhoods on a sheep ranch through a horrific and scarring combat tour in Korea, and into a troubled old age, back at the Adams family ranch.

Their friendship is an odd matchup, as fatherless Hobbs has always been just a little "off," and Adams early becomes his unofficial protector and continues to feel responsible for Hobbs throughout his life. This rather one-sided friendship becomes obvious during the two's combat in Korea, from which both emerged damaged in both mind and body.

The narrative moves back and forth in time, beginning in 1995 with flashbacks to the 40s, 50s and 70s which weaves the rest of the Adams family into the plot - Fremont's older brother Buren (a louse lawyer), his younger sister Charlotte, and his mother Portia.

In the opening (1995) segment, Buren calls Hobbs "a man of peculiar symmetries" who has "already died twice over," and warns Adams -

"C.D. Hobbs has returned to our ranch to die, I'm sure of it. There are many good reasons for him to do so, not the least of which is he has no other home."

I immediately was reminded of Robert Frost's "The Death of the Hired Man," and its lines "Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in." Because Hagy's story of Adams and Hobbs displays certain similarities to Frost's mini-story of Warren and Silas, although Silas's failings may have been more related to character, while C.D.'s were mental, or psychological.

Hagy's tale is, in any case, every bit as magical and memorable as Frost's classic poem. In fact, I suspect Fremont Adams and C.D. Hobbs will remain with me in much the same way that Frost's characters have. And I suspect there may be other classical parallels and influences here that I am missing, because Hagy displays the unmistakable skills and sensibilities of an exceptionally fine writer, one who knows how to borrow from the best to create her own special world.

There are two other, more recent, works I might recommend to readers who love Alyson Hagy's modern westerns. One is J. Robert Lennon's ON THE NIGHT PLAIN. The other is TOM WEDDERBURN'S LIFE, by another Wyoming writer, Theodore Judson. Both are set on western sheep ranches after WWII. Both are also excellent.

Alyson Hagy is a writer's writer - damn good at what she does. She knows how to tell one hell of a story, and this one will resonate with serious readers for a long time. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. ( )
  TimBazzett | May 11, 2014 |
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"The uneasy friendship between Fremont Adams and C.D. Hobbs worked best when both men had a job to do, when they could fall into the rhythm of hard labor. Neglected by his mother at an early age, Hobbs found his way into the Adams family and took his fair share of chores on their Wyoming ranch. But everyone could tell he was always a bit odd, a bit off. As a result, Fremont resigned himself to watching out for Hobbs, who had an innocence and optimism that can only come from ignorance. During a grueling tour in Korea, however, Adams and Hobbs face unspeakable horrors and return to the ranch marked in dangerous ways."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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