three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Ron Carlson
user_rating: 
0

A-Five SkiesDarwin Gallegos, a longtime ranch hand and recent widower, is hired to build a motorcycle stunt ramp on the precipice of a canyon in the mountains of Idaho (think Evel Knievel and the Snake River). Good help is hard to find, and Gallegos recruits a pair of drifters down on their luck—one a former Hollywood stunt coordinator who blames himself for the death of his brother, the other a troubled teenager and petty thief—to help him finish the job in time for the Labor Day stunt to be filmed. The unlikely trio overcome their initial distrust of one another and start to believe they can piece their lives back together. But will they get a second chance?
Viking. 256 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0670038504

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"With a discerning feel for the connection between place and character, Carlson gradually reveals what makes each man tick and his relationship to the others as they work side by side over a single summer. Five Skies is a haunting tale of loss and redemption." Sybil Downing

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Five Skies is like one of those heartbreaking Raymond Carver stories in which a luckless character catches a glimpse of something better, a small moment of rightness about the world, and, instead of cheering us, this glimmer of hope makes us even more anxious—because we know it can’t possibly last." Tom Barbash

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Five Skies is an entertaining and engaging read. In prose as clear as a mountain river, Carlson effectively illuminates the bonding of three men through all the stages of a construction project, from schematic drawings to final build." David Flood

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Five Skies is multilayered, rich with metaphors, which some may interpret biblically; either way, readers will find Carlson’s experiences on the page to be both moving and illuminating." Annette Gallagher

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Carlson] can be stark and lyrical, and the cadences of his sentences will remind some of Hemingway, with a nod to the great Western writers like Wallace Stegner. … I wish, however, that Carlson had allowed his readers a few dramatic thrills." Michael Leone

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If one invests any work—building a ramp or writing a novel—with sufficient attention, care and reverence, the result can be a kind of prayer. … Only Carlson’s sure sense of balance keeps his novel back from the edge of portentousness, though I hoped for a less melodramatic ending." Michael Dirda

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Carlson does weave just enough human drama into his story to keep the novel from becoming a latter-day Robinson Crusoe. … The novel’s final chapters introduce a plot twist that, while not wholly out of keeping with what has come before, seem a willful effort to thwart readers’ expectations and undermine the very essence of the story." Scott Leibs

Critical Summary

Ron Carlson—A Kind of Flying (2003), At the Jim Bridger (2002), The Hotel Eden (1997)—is one of the best-kept secrets in American letters, though he hasn’t published a novel in three decades (focusing on short fiction instead), and he certainly doesn’t make his living on flash and dash. Nonetheless, he’s considered one of the best stylists working today, his name uttered along with those of Wallace Stegner, Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison, Kent Haruf, and other writers who explore the terrain and unique spirit of the American West. Carlson’s spare, character-driven work carries the mark of the true craftsman, deriving its power from sure-footed prose, understated yet poignant relationships, and a keen sense of place. Some critics note a melodramatic ending, but they all recommend Five Skies for the virtuosity of Carlson’s prose.