Book Review: Dan O'Brien's 'Stolen Horses'

The clash between longtime residents and recent arrivals in a Nebraska town is the subject of Stolen Horses, a new novel from Dan O'Brien.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In the novel "Stolen Horses," change comes to a small, fictional cattle town in Nebraska's panhandle. Old West and New West seem to be set for a showdown. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says the book's author, Dan O'Brien, knows just how to dramatize the situation.

ALAN CHEUSE: McDermot, Nebraska, as the novelist vividly imagines it, was born in violence when a cowboy of the same name and his crew shot and killed some Indians living in the Pawnee River Valley, and stole their string of horses.

In contemporary McDermot, a Lakota Indian high school student dies after a highway accident when the head of the fancy, state-of-the-art, new medical clinic declines to treat him for financial reasons.

A local newspaper reporter named Gretchen(ph) gets wind of the news behind the news of the boys death, and writes an expose. But the new forces in town, the head of the clinic and his backers, fight to get her story killed.

Her construction-worker lover, Steve, part of a down-and-out ranching family whose roots go back almost to the founding of the town, is also making trouble for her because he wont commit. And one of the towns new guys, a dashing, young, Republican attorney who represents the medical clinic, is trying to move in where cowboy Steve wont go.

Dan OBrien tracks these and other small-town heartland woes and loves with dignity, clarity and narrative respect - which is to say, he gives a fairly large number of characters individual attention, making them, with their good traits and bad, all quite memorable.

And then theres the land, pitched - as one character, a divorced woman just moved down from Chicago, sees it - pitched at surprising angles. She feels, as OBrien has it, oddly at ease there, captivated by the gentle curve of the land, fascinated by the ever-changing shadows.

About the novel itself, this says it for me, too.

BLOCK: The book is "Stolen Horses," by Dan O'Brien. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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