Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Legend of Colton H. Bryant

Many of our regulars here at Broadway Books are fans of Alexandra Fuller's writing. Her first book, Don't Let's go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, about growing up in South Africa, was followed by Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, about her adolescence. Both of these books are very popular with our customers, to a great extent because of Fuller's writing: sharp, insightful portraits presented in prose that borders on poetry in its beauty and essence.

Her most recent book, while tackling different terrain, is similarly beautifully written. The Legend of Colton H. Bryant tells the story of a young Wyoming roughneck, working on the oil rigs in Wyoming's high plains, who falls to his death from a rig while only in his mid-20s. The book tells Colton's story beautifully, but it also tells the story of a land that has shifted from cowboy-dense to roughneck-dense, and of a country whose unceasing demand for energy drives the growth of oil production. (Then again, maybe roughnecks are cowboys, but the landscape changes.) The book grew out of an article Fuller wrote for the New Yorker in 2007 about the costs and consequences of the energy boom.

The chapters are short, the prose breathtaking, and the story pulls you along. While acknowledging that she has taken some narrative liberties with the book in the interest of storytelling, the book tells a real story: a story of a real person who died in the interest of greater profits. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and even though I knew from the beginning how the story would end, it still found myself moved to literal tears at the book's conclusion. (I should acknowledge, however, that my brother works on oil rigs -- usually in the Gulf of Mexico but most recently on the high plains of Wyoming, so the story hit me personally.)

Fuller was born in England in 1969 and moved with her family to a farm in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1972. After that country's civil war in 1981, the Fullers moved first to Malawai, then to Zambia. She met her husband-to-be when he was working as a safari guide in Zambia. After the birth of their first child, they moved to Wyoming in 1994, where they live now and are the parents of three children. She wrote several novels about life in South Africa, but none were accepted for publication. When she turned to nonfiction, and wrote about her life and her parents -- warts and all, without judgment -- she had found her true form.

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