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An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg
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An Unfinished Life (2004)

by Mark Spragg

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4472223,394 (3.85)16
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    Above the Thunder by Renee Manfredi (BookshelfMonstrosity)
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    Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Both books have the same feel and the same kind of family connection.
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Jean Gilkyson has finally had enough. Her latest loser boyfried, Roy, has hit her for the last time and she knows that it is past time for herself and her 9 year old daughter Griff to leave. They head for Ishawooa, Wyoming, the small town where Jean grew up and where she met and married Griffin Gilkyson, her husband who has now been dead for nearly 10 years after an automobile accident in which Jean was driving. There is nothing left in Ishawooa for Jean but that is where her father-in-law Einar lives and she hopes he will help her long enough to get back on her feet. Einar still blames Jean for his son's death and wants nothing to do with her but his heart is warmed by sweet Griff who longs for a stable home and family. Also living on Einar's ranch is Mitch, a friend of 50 years, who is horribly scarred and crippled from a confrontation with a bear. Einar and Mitch are quickly smitten with Griff and can't imagine their lives without her. Unfortunately, a vengeful Roy has tracked Jean to Ishawooa and nothing will stop him from getting her back.

I can't express how much I love Einar and Mitch. They are curmudgeons with hearts of gold and a loyal friendship that overcomes so much. Some of their conversations had me chuckling while always being touched by the love they obviously feel for one another. Griff is a wonderful character who has had to learn to trust these men to be the family she desperately wants. The only character I had issues with is Jean who needed to put her child first long before moving to Wyoming. She is just a bit too willing to jump into any available bed which is what got her in trouble in the first place, I guess. Great book and it was also a fairly decent movie a few years back.
( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
Audio book performed by Tony Amendola and Judith Marx

Jane Gilkyson has finally decided to leave her abusive boyfriend. With her 10-year-old daughter, Griff, she takes off in her ancient car, headed for the Pacific Ocean. But when the car dies and she’s left stranded, she has nowhere to turn but to her father-in-law, a man who blames her for the death of his son, and who is living his life in bitterness and misery on a small ranch in Ishawooa, Wyoming. Einar Gilkyson would probably be dead by now, too, except his oldest friend needs him, and that’s about all that keeps him going. It will be up to Griff to help them all see the need to let go of recrimination and regret, and to embrace love and forgiveness.

This is the first book by Mark Spragg that I’ve read, and it won’t be the last. He has mastered the art of “show, don’t tell,” giving us insight into these characters and their complex relationships without spelling anything out. His writing is rather spare, yet he conveys a strong sense of place. The dialogue is spot on; Griff asks intelligent questions but nothing a 10-year-old wouldn’t wonder, especially one who has grown to be a keen observer of others and learned to hold her questions until “the right time.” Einar and Mitch spar like the close friends they are – almost like an old married couple, they can anticipate each other’s thoughts and reactions. There is no pretty bow tying up the ending, either. There is hope for these people, but they still have a ways to go. I like a little ambiguity in my endings.

Spragg alternates different characters’ points of view. This lets the reader know what each character is thinking, but also serves to build suspense in that we aren’t privy to all the information at once. The audio book is masterfully performed by Tony Amendola and Judith Marx.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
I was browsing used books and a title caught my eye. An Unfinished Life, by Mark Spragg. Something seemed familiar but I couldn't place it. I looked at it very briefly. There was a back cover endorsement by Jim Harrison, which I didn't bother to read. Harrison wrote Legends of the Fall, so his name as an endorsement was good enough for me.

I began to read. Spragg is an excellent storyteller and in the opening chapters there were two separate story lines that seemed to be moving towards each other. There were some elements of the story that seemed familiar, and one of the characters reminded me of a role Morgan freeman played in a movie. Now what was the name of that movie? Then, about 85 pages into the book, it hit me. The move was An Unfinished Life! No wonder the title caught my attention and the character seemed like the one played by Freeman! They were one and the same!

That said, this is an excellent story, told in a captivating manner. The movie was pretty good, but this book is excellent. Spragg brings out things in the characters, in terms of both their actions and thoughts, that just isn't captured well in a screenplay or on film. The theme of reconciliation is played out in a way that is both beautiful and poignant. I invite you to read it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. ( )
  BradKautz | Aug 24, 2014 |
Best book I have read in awhile. I looked at it to see what Nancy Stauffer might mean by "utterly sprung to life characters." Got it. I, like the other old men in the book, am completely smitten by the 10 year old brave little girl. Wonder what Spragg is doing next and what it would take to get him to Torrey House. ( )
  torreyhouse | Feb 12, 2014 |
I was a little dismayed when I found out that Spragg was already working on the script for the film version before he had actually finished the novel, but overall I fell under the spell of this tale of a family in disrepair. ( )
  hayduke | Apr 3, 2013 |
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For Virginia, because of Virginia, always, and for Kent and Cathy Haruf, and Nancy Stauffer, with my love
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099472198, Paperback)

Jean Gilkyson is living in Iowa with yet another brutal boyfriend, when she realizes this kind of life has got to stop, especially for the sake of her daughter, Griff. But the only place they can run to is Ishawooa, Wyoming, where her loved ones are dead, and her father-in-law wishes she was too. For a decade, Einar Gilkyson has blamed her for the accident that took his son's life, and has chosen to go on living himself largely because his oldest friend couldn't otherwise survive. Bound together like brothers since the Korean War, their intimacy is even more acute since a bear horribly crippled Mitch. Griff knows none of this, but once she encounters this grandfather she'd never heard about, and the black cowboy confined to the bunkhouse, she attempts to turn grievous loss, wrath and recrimination towards reconciliation and love.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

One of the truest and most original new voices in American letters, as Kent Haruf has written, Mark Spragg now tells the story of a complex, prodigal homecoming. Jean Gilkyson is floundering in a trailer house in Iowa with yet another brutal boyfriend when she realizes this kind of life has got to stop, especially for the sake of her daughter, Griff. But the only place they can run to is Ishawooa, Wyoming, where Jean's loved ones are dead and her father in law, the only person who could take them in, wishes that she was too. For a decade, Einar Gilkyson has blamed her for the accident that took his son's life, and he has chosen to go on living himself largely because his oldest friend couldn't otherwise survive. They've been bound together like brothers since the Korean War and now face old age on a faltering ranch, their intimacy even more acute after Mitch was horribly crippled while Einar helplessly watched. Of course, ten year old Griff knows none of this-only that her father is dead and her mother has bad taste in men. But once she encounters this grandfather she'd never heard about, and the black cowboy confined to the bunkhouse, with irrepressible courage and great spunk she attempts to turn grievous loss, wrath, and recrimination to which she's naturally the most vulnerable toward reconciliation and love. Immediately compelling and constantly surprising, rich in character, landscape, and compassion, An Unfinished Life shows a novelist of extraordinary talents in the fullness of his powers.… (more)

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