Rowland, Russell 1957–
Rowland, Russell 1957–
PERSONAL: Born 1957, in Bozeman, MT; children: Fletcher. Education: Earned bachelor's degree, 1980; Boston University, M.A.
CAREER: Writer, novelist, consultant, and educator. Worked variously as a shoe salesman, a bookkeeper, a surveyor, and an editor. St. Mary's College, writer-in-residence, 2003.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best of the West recognition, Salt Lake City Tribune, 2002, for In Open Spaces; MacDowell fellowship, 2005.
In Open Spaces (novel), HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 2002.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Watershed Years (sequel to In Open Spaces).
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist Russell Rowland is a fourth-generation Montanan whose "connection to this magical state has not weakened even though he has not lived there since 1985," commented a biographer on Rowland's home page. This background deeply informs Rowland's In Open Spaces, a novel in which the harsh, unforgiving landscape in which the characters live takes on as much importance as the characters themselves. Covering the thirty-year period from 1916 to 1946, the story centers around the Arbuckle family, telling of sibling rivalry, hardscrabble existence, and the struggle to survive on meager returns from weak soil and backbreaking labor. After the drowning death of his brother George, Blake Arbuckle shuffles aside his dreams of a baseball career and returns to his Montana home, working to keep the family together and the ranch functioning. Making matters worse is the fact that rancorous eldest brother Jack, who has no love for the hard work required to run a farm, is suspected of having contributed somehow to George's demise. Before any explanation can be had, Jack disappears. With no other choice, the family continues to coax a minimal existence out of the harsh Montana soil. Years later, Jack returns just as mysteriously, along with his beautiful wife, Rita. Jack explains that he enlisted in the U.S. Army, was wounded in France, and now wants to rejoin the family. Blake is immediately smitten with Rita, despite her marriage to his brother. Jack's behavior, however, again becomes erratic, and eventually he leaves her. Turmoil over the fate of the family ranch increases, even as Blake again declines to pursue his baseball dreams; brother Bob comes home with new wife, Helen, who has a scheming eye on the farm; and revelations of Jack's conniving indicate a falsified military record, shady business deals, and a plot to take over the family ranch for himself.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that, in In Open Spaces, "Rowland's examination of family dynamics is poignant and revealing," while New York Times Book Review contributor Amy Benfer remarked that Rowland's "family epic … has a muted elegance" resulting in a "gracefully understated novel." A Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that "prose pretty much stripped of graces remains useful for this unpretentious, involving story told with unfaltering authority." The Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "Rowland's sense of craft and control … make his book a noteworthy debut."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of In Open Spaces, p. 608.
New York Times Book Review, September 29, 2002, Amy Benfer, review of In Open Spaces, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, April 15, 2002, review of In Open Spaces, p. 38.
Russell Rowland Home Page, http://www.russellrowland.com (January 23, 2006).