By Ben Beagle
March 6, 2007
Many readers have found themselves drawn to Griff Gilkyson, the wise-beyond-her-years 10-year-old of Mark Spragg’s novel An Unfinished Life.
For others the attraction was the relationship between two old cowboys. Still others enjoyed Spragg’s descriptions of rural Wyoming, saying he made the setting seem familiar to them.
Readers have found many ways to connect with Spragg’s novel, according to the librarians who organized this year’s “ATale for Three Counties” community reading project.
“The number one comment I hear from patrons is that this isn’t a book they would have picked on their own, but that they enjoyed it and were now planning on reading Spragg’s other books,” said Michele M. Asmus of Genesee Community College.
Leslie DeLooze, the reference librarian at Batavia’s Richmond Memorial Library – and the person who started “Tale” five years ago – said readers’ reactions vary depending on what parts of the book they choose to concentrate on.
“Readers have commented on the characters and which are their favorites, the changing points of view, the description of the rugged land of Wyoming, the animals, the relationships of the characters, particularly the Einar/Griff and Einar/Mitch combinations, the dialogue and how authentic it is, and the humor,” DeLooze said.
And this week those readers are looking forward to meeting the author.
“I love to read, and I want to let him know how much I enjoyed the book,” said Cheri Sheridan of Bergen, one of six winners of a book review contest sponsored by The Daily News.
The winners will have lunch with Spragg on Friday at the D & R Depot in Le Roy. They will share thoughts on the story and ask questions of the author.
Other winners are Sarah Bass of Silver Springs, Julie B. Caton of Oakfield, Meghan Hauser of Perry, and Frances McNulty and Catherine Roth, both of Batavia.
“I like the opportunity to meet the author. I like that little extra bit of personal contact,” said McNulty, who has participated in “Tale” each of its five years.
“I have never traveled out West,” McNulty said, but with Spragg’s visual descriptions “I felt I could see some things very clearly.”
Caton recently finished writing her own book and found writing a review a chance to try another kind of writing. “I found it interesting to write the review, having to keep it short and sweet, like a piece of chocolate,” she said.
An Unfinished Life is Spragg’s tale of relationships and redemption. He writes from the perspective of six different characters – including a grizzly bear – each of whom is trying to find forgiveness.
Some readers have objected to the language used by the characters. Others “acknowledge that while it is raw, it also is not gratuitous or overdone and that it fits the characters who use it,”DeLooze said.
The quickly-paced story explores human bonds, the difficulty of change, the longing for family, the inescapable grip of the past, and the need for forgiveness. The story picks up a decade after the death of Einar’s only son in a car accident. He blames his daughter-in-law Jean for the death and has led a nearly solitary life on his ranch, where he cares for his long-time friend Mitch, a black cowboy horribly mauled by the grizzly bear.
Then, Jean shows up at the ranch with her daughter, Griff, the granddaughter Einar didn’t know he had. Jean, running from the latest in a string of abusive relationships, seeks a temporary refuge for herself and her daughter.
Einar hasn’t forgiven Jean for his son’s death. Neither has Jean, who was driving the car.
The story also includes Jean’s boyfriend, Roy, who is still trying to get back together with Jean, and the grizzly bear, whose attack Mitch has been able to forgive even if Einar hasn’t.
“When Jean and her daughter flee to Wyoming, I worried about the choice the author had made. Was Jean’s embittered father-in-law, Einar Gilkyson, the right choice for any normal life Griff might have?,” Roth wrote in her review. “But the author gives Griff an almost uncanny knowledge of how to act towards this old man and his equally old, severely damaged friend, Mitch.”
And Hauser wrote, “Griff’s spirit kindles affection in a series of deeply flawed characters who had forgotten they could feel anything but bitterness. Throughout the troubling events that unfold, readers feel assured that these subtly blossoming relationships will sustain Griff and redeem all of the book’s characters.”
Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation