Oct. 28, 2006
By Ben Beagle
Daily News Lifestyles Editor
The wait is over. The Tale for Three Counties Council has chosen Mark Spragg’s book An Unfinished Life for its 2007 community reading project.
The novel, the fifth selection in the annual program organized by libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, brings a western flavor to the project with a story set in a fictional Wyoming town.
“A Tale for Three Counties” encourages people to read the same book, get involved in community discussions, and meet the author when he visits next spring. Spragg’s visits are tentatively scheduled between March 8 and 10, 2007.
An Unfinished Life “will appeal to a wide variety of readers from young to old, men and women, and the themes provide many discussion points,” said Leslie DeLooze, the librarian at Batavia’s Richmond Memorial Library who started the project. “The contemporary Western setting provides a different kind of story for our readers.”
Spragg’s second novel, An Unfinished Life, takes readers to the fictional town of Ishawooa, Wyo. There, bitter Einar Gilkyson basically subsists as he cares for his friend, Mitch, and battles personal demons. Then, the daughter-in-law Einar blames for his son’s death in a car accident arrives at his ranch, running from an abusive boyfriend. She seeks a safe haven with the granddaughter , a 10-year-old wise beyond her years , Einar never knew he had. The granddaughter, one of the book’s more memorable characters, helps bring about an awakening for Einar.
The story is both funny and heartbreaking at times. Ultimately, it is a tale of family, forgiveness and the relationships that bind even after death.
The idea that our lives are unfinished lends poignancy to how most of the characters “must learn to forgive what they perceive as wrong in their life, whether that wrong was committed by other people or by some form of cosmology,” Spragg, who lives near Cody, Wyo., said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The book, said DeLooze, has received outstanding professional reviews and awards.
Critics liked the book’s concise language, fast-paced plotting and Western setting.
An Unfinished Life was nominated by the Denver Public Library for the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, an award open to books published in any language. It won the 2005 Wyoming State Historical Society Publications Award for fiction, was a finalist for the 2005 PENCenter USA fiction award for “Best in West,” and it was named to the Editor’s Choice of Best Fiction for 2004 by Booklist.
“Tale” organizers look for books that they consider to be an outstanding piece of fiction that is accessible to many ages. Specifically, they require a book that will appeal to both adult and teen readers with a theme of rural family life or local history. They look for literary merit through professional reviews or awards, and issues or topics to discuss. They also want to introduce a new or relatively unknown author to local readers, and the author must be willing to participate in community activities.
An Unfinished Life may be familiar to readers. A 2005 movie starred Robert Redford as Einar, Morgan Freeman as his friend and Jennifer Lopez as Einar’s estranged daughter-in-law. The film, which received critical praise in some circles, was directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Spragg and his wife, Virginia Korus Spragg, wrote the screenplay for the movie.
Spragg, 54, worked odd jobs for years , school teacher, oil-rig worker, horseshoer , to support his writing. Though he had short stories published when he was in his 20s, it wasn’t until his early 30s that he started writing screenplays and later still when he says he matured as a “prose writer.”
“It wasn’t a matter of choice,” Spragg told AP. “It was a matter of a later-blooming talent.”
Spragg’s other books include Where the Rivers Change Direction, a memoir about growing up on a Wyoming ranch that won the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, and a novel, The Fruit of Stone, also set in the West.
The “A Tale for Three Counties” reading project started in 2003 with Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. It was followed by Northern Borders by Howard Frank Mosher, the mystery In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming and last year’s selection, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.
Discussion groups will be scheduled at many area libraries leading up to Spragg’s visits. Author visits will be scheduled at Richmond Library in Batavia, and at one location each in Orleans and Wyoming counties.
Readers will also be able to share reaction to the book in a book review contest sponsored by The Daily News that includes a lunch with the author for several winners.
Copies of An Unfinished Life will be available for loan or purchase at libraries in all three counties. Local book stores are also expected to stock copies of the book.
The Tale for Three Counties Web site, www.taleforthreecounties.org, will list a schedule of events, details on the book review contest, and other resources. Information about past programs can also be found on the site.
Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation