three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
By: 
Mark Spragg
user_rating: 
0

A-UnfinishedLifeNine-and-a-half-year-old Griff Gilkyson’s mom, Jean, has a knack for falling in love with abusive alcoholics. After years of bad decisions and black eyes, Jean promises to leave the next one who follows this pattern. When her latest trailer trash boyfriend, Roy, hits her, Jean and Griff (named for her dead father) leave Iowa for Ishawooa, Wyoming. They end up on her estranged father-in-law Einar Gilkyson’s front porch. As Einar lets go of his hatred, he connects with his granddaughter. Then Roy reappears in their lives, and Griff and Jean must decide the meaning of home. Knopf. 257 pages. $23. ISBN: 1400042011

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Spragg, with consummate skill, uses people and places we don’t know to teach us something about ourselves. He explores human bonds, the difficulty of core change and ultimately the need for forgiveness if a person is to be emotionally whole." Robin Vidimos

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"A contemporary Western set largely in rural Wyoming, Mark Spragg’s novel An Unfinished Life moves from the pain of loss to the possibility of reconciliation, as a good Western should. … Told in the laconic voice of the plains, the novel moves schematically back and forth between the two females and the two men until they meet up, and when they do, the story takes original turns …" Penny Allen

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"What lingers long after readers turn the final page is an unforgettable portrayal of the irrepressible Griff. … And even though the book takes place in the West, Spragg has expanded his impressive skills by giving us a book that will resonate with everyone from Laramie to Eau Claire and beyond." Stephen J. Lyons

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"An Unfinished Life is another impressive effort embracing a contemporary West of both cowpokes and motorcycles, small-town sheriffs and war memories. … But despite an occasional tendency toward writerly prose, An Unfinished Life is what a good contemporary western should be: complex, human, fast-paced and highly attuned to the details of life and landscape that make the West what it is." Jennie A. Camp

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The setting may be Wyoming, but the ending is pure Hollywood, complete with forgiveness, revenge, injury and soft-core violence." Wayne Lee Gay

The Baltimore Sun 2 of 5 Stars
"An Unfinished Life comes up short. Spragg aspires to capture the difficulty of forgiveness, but it’s hard to grasp the depth of Einar’s anger toward Jean when we learn so little about his dead son, or about anything, really, that precedes the pass where we find the characters." Alec MacGillis

Critical Summary

An Unfinished Life follows on the heels of Spragg’s memoir about growing up on a Wyoming ranch, Where Rivers Change Direction, and his Western debut, The Fruits of Stone. This latest effort, which raises comparisons to Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Eventide ( 3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2004), delves into the world of fractured families. Memorable secondary characters contribute a great deal of spirit to this emotionally charged story of love, loss, betrayal, and reconciliation. Although most critics adored An Unfinished Life for its concise language, fast-paced plotting, and Western feel, a few criticized its predictable romance and untidy ending. And, most mourned its Hollywood qualities—yes, it hit the big screen in 2005, with Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, and Jennifer Lopez.