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William Kittredge, a famed author who is lauded in The Oregon Encyclopedia as a “preeminent voice of the American West,” reflects back on his life growing up on his family’s ranch in eastern Oregon.
I picked this up while my husband and I were staying in Oregon for six months with his job. I like to read books set in the state we’re currently in and Hole in the Sky showed up as a nonfiction pick on the lists I work from (Literary Hub and Book Riot, if you’re curious).
I just couldn’t click with this book.
Kittredge does write beautifully and he writes of a way of life that seems to be disappearing. He writes fondly of the hands who worked the ranch, some of them for years and years for little more than room and board. He describes the difficult land in the salt flats of eastern Oregon and northern Nevada. Readers share in the stark beauty of the harsh land even as his family is bending it to their will with irrigation pipes and heavy equipment.
The rest of this review doesn’t feel fair, but it’s how I feel. The toxic masculinity put me right off. Kittredge himself acknowledges that he grew up on a hard land that made the people hard. He recognizes that his own extended adolescence lasted at least into his 30s. He liked to throw his weight around when he had authority and he was unreasonably hard on his men even while he was trying to get away with his own drunken workdays. He neglected his children and cheated on his wife shamelessly. And he acknowledges in the book that none of this was right or good. I applaud him for admitting his own faults and putting them out there for anyone to read but I disliked the young man in these pages and, rightly or wrongly, that colored my perception of the entire book.
Readers who are better able to separate the author from the work and the older, wiser man from the younger, more foolish one will enjoy this more than I did. It is at its heart a reflection on a way of life that has all but disappeared.
If you liked Hole in the Sky, you might also like my reviews of
- All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
- A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Buy Hole in the Sky from Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC.