Following is a selection from Gotham fiction instructor Russell Rowland's novel In Open Spaces, which follows a Montana ranching clan as it struggles to survive the Depression, two world wars and family tragedy. Publisher's Weekly said about the book, "Rowland's sense of craft and control, as well as his ability to integrate the land into the tale, make his book a noteworthy debut."
Chapter One: Fall 1916
The windows of the old Model T rattled as the mail truck bounced along the winding gravel road from Belle Fourche, South Dakota, to Albion, Montana. It was well past midnight, and I tried to sleep, but my head bonked against the window each time I dozed, until it felt as if I'd grown a corner on my forehead. There was also the matter of Annie Ketchal, the driver, who loved to talk. When I saw that Annie was the driver that night, I cringed, because I knew I wouldn't get much sleep. Because of her job, she knew everyone, and not only did she know them, but she had a gift for finding out more about them than anyone else knew. At the age of fourteen, I usually found the information she passed on interesting, and sometimes even shocking, but on this night I simply wasn't interested in lives outside of my own. "Sorry about your brother, Blake," she said after a few miles. "Thanks, Mrs. Ketchal," I answered, feeling my jaw tighten, my lower teeth settling against the upper. My heart seemed to press against my chest, as if a strong hand had a firm grip on it, squeezing it tightly, telling it, "Don't beat... don't you dare beat." And I knew as sure as anything that this pain would never go away. I thought I would feel this bad for the rest of my life. My fourteen years hadn't taught me that you feel this kind of pain sometimes, and that although it may never completely disappear, it does fade. And if anyone had tried to explain that to me then, I would have silently told them to shut up and leave me alone, to let me get a little sleep. Just as I now silently wished that Annie Ketchal, as friendly as she was, would be quiet and let me and my struggling heart be. I had been standing at the blackboard doing a math problem when the telegram arrived. I was an eighth-grader, just beginning my second year at the Belle Fourche School, fifty miles from the ranch. I boarded with an older couple during the week and caught the mail truck home most weekends to help with the harvest, or haying, or feeding the stock. Brother George drowned in river. read the telegram. My mother's words, as always, would never pass for poetry, but it told me everything I needed to know.