Set against the world of horse ranching in mid 20th century British Columbia, this debut novel revolves around people as real as those we live with. Harris, a mysterious African American, Grey, an Irish emigrant, and Elsa, Grey’s unconventional daughter, can all express their feelings for their horses, but have trouble doing likewise for each other. Although Harris appears out of a shrouded past, Grey turns him from a guest to an employee when he discovers Harris’s gift with horses. Later, when he begins to care for Harris above his own son, he tries to make him more than an employee. But Harris is fighting nightmares and memories from his past. Meanwhile, Elsa—talented markswoman, artist, and horse handler—struggles to adulthood amid her desires and her family’s expectations.
Although complex, this novel is easy to read and effortless to admire. The author’s prose is in turn lyrical and earthy, while her depiction of a horse ranch circa 1950 is marvelously detailed. I enjoyed her descriptions of British Columbia, including a Vancouver of bygone days. She draws the reader into her themes of despair, loyalty, self-respect, love, and dealing with the past. While the story is not laid out in linear progression, it is a delight to meander into the characters’ pasts and then back again. With its mixture of raw intensity and bleakness, and its superb characterization, I think Salthill will be remembered.