Hard Country

Written by Michael McGarrity
Review by Marina Maxwell

The Western often suffers from literary snobbishness, but good authors of the genre, like Michael McGarrity, know their era and don’t embellish their pioneering folk with the sensibilities of our softer age. He doesn’t spare the realities. Most lives were short or cheap, prejudice and bigotry rife. Men were men, and women did the laundry.

This quote from the novel bluntly exemplifies what you can expect of relationships: “It was the book writers and poets who made a big deal about cooing, courting, love, and romance. In a hard country there wasn’t much room for all of that.”

The challenging landscape permeates the whole book, and its unforgiving nature is reflected in the people who try to bend it to their will. All of the characters have an honesty and veracity shaped by their life experiences. John Kearney’s guilt over his family is at the root of his determination to start afresh in New Mexico. His son, Patrick, is both complex and confronting as he struggles to overcome the demons of childhood while his wife, Emma, must find her own way of dealing with tragedy and conflict.

Male readers will relish the usual Western ingredients of round-ups, rustlers and renegades, plus the added bonuses of the Rough Riders in Cuba and America’s entry into WW1.

The numerous horse and cattle drives may prove exhausting for some female readers, but they should appreciate the sympathetic portrayals of the women, who were either defeated by their environment or became stronger in spite of it.

Part adventure yarn, part story of New Mexico’s transition to the modern age, McGarrity’s narrative flows with laconic ease on this most satisfying journey across America’s Southwest.