Friday, November 9, 2012

Book Review: Boleto, by Alyson Hagy

Boleto, by Alyson Hagy
Graywolf Press
251 pages

This makes me a bit of a minority, but I am not usually one for animal books.

Don't misunderstand: I love our cat and those of her kind who have preceded her. It's just that I very rarely choose to read about animal-human relationships in my fiction.

Then why Boleto?

Part of it is because of seeing it praised by others, including Beth Kephart. (When Beth praises a book, I usually pay attention.) Part of it is also because of wanting to give Alyson Hagy's work another chance. (I had a hard time with the beginning of Snow, Ashes, and had to set it aside.)

I'm so glad I did. (Give Alyson Hagy's work another chance, that is.) The writing in Boleto is so exquisite that I just want to quote from the text. What I have to say doesn't much matter.

Right off the bat, one notices that Boleto is going to be a rich read of characters and their complex relationships to each other, as well as to the changing Wyoming land that they live on and love. The main character is 23 year old Will Testerman, a quiet, somewhat mysterious but gentle soul who has made a few mistakes in his young life and caught a few unlucky breaks. He's so incredibly broken inside and Hagy's skill as a writer is making her reader want to reach through the pages to heal him.

Because that's what Will struggles to do with the broken people in his life, starting with his mom, a cancer survivor. (Honest to God, can I not escape cancer these days?)
"His mother was a schoolteacher in town. He believe he owed some of his restlessness to her. She had taken on full-time work when he was old enough to go to school, and the two of them had driven to and from Lost Cabin for many years, It was a short drive but in those minutes together - often in the blue cold of a winter morning - they would talk about their days, about who they were. His mother had traveled some when she was young. She was also a great reader of books.
She would say to him, Who are you today, Will Testerman?
And he would say, if he wished to disappoint her, Today I hate arithmetic.
More often he would say a thing to entertain her or to warm up the teacher in her. He would say, Today I am a minuteman from Massachusetts, or Today I am the man from over there in France who discovered germs. It wasn't hard to please his mother or to make her laugh. This was true even after a difficult day, one that left a grayish color around her lips. She only wanted to talk to him. She only wanted him to know how big the world was." (pg. 6-7)
"He realized after a few minutes that watching her - even for just a short time - might soon become as basic to him as breathing. And he realized he hadn't breathed much, not really, over the past few months. His mother's cancer had worried him. It worried him still. There was also his ongoing quarrel with his father. His father thought he was too much of a dreamer, that he took chances on things a person could not touch or see, that he did not place enough value in the normal, unpleasant things a man had to do in his life. That was not a false judgement. He did not always put himself forward as normal. And he had been known to smash himself up among his dreams." (pg. 21)
This is also a story about family, about ambition, about love.
"My great-grandmother was the kind of person you can say lived a hard life. And she didn't bring that hardness down on herself at all. She wasn't a bad woman, or a criminal in any way. It's a puzzle, don't you think? What does a person really get after a lot of honest work? Who gets happiness at the end of the line, and who doesn't?" (pg. 56)
"He had heard from his Christian rodeo friends that the fights inside you were always the biggest fights. The invisible demons were the ones that had the most power." (pg. 60)
"People were not fixed. People slipped away like weather over a horizon. You could love a person all you wanted, all that you were capable of, but a person would not settle once you left them behind." (pg. 86)
"You'll love somebody enough to try to live with them someday, Linda said. It'll strangle you. It'll bring you right down to your knees and make you want to cut your nuts off. I'm telling you the truth.
I don't aim to get married, he said.
I'm not talking about marriage, Linda said, squawking into the laugh she used on her ridiculous, ungovernable sheep. I'm talking about love. It'll come onto you like a March blizzard. I'll beat the rhythm right out of your heart if you let it.
Maybe I won't let it.
Ha, Linda squawked. That's the best damn part. It's not an option. Love is like a hospital germ. It don't give you a chance." (pg. 193-194)
Boleto is so well worth taking a chance on.

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