The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel c. 2017 (192 pages—Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

A story about a battle between Silas and Frank, brothers whose feud is rooted in the fate of the family ranch. The story opens after Silas, a rugged traditionalist, shoots Frank, his business-minded brother. The tension of the book lies in the reader’s eventual discovery of the events that preceded the murder. The story ends with a standoff between Silas and Lena (Frank’s wife), after a surprising plot twist is revealed.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “The road seemed to take on some significance, as if it were a boundary line—the first of many—and now that he was past it, he was that much farther away from what had been his life. But Silas also knew that it was just a road, same as any other, and that he was only covering ground. Even if he hadn’t the foggiest notion where he was going” (4-5).
  • “The animals were her religion. Boyfriends, girlfriends, education, the prospect of a more reliable income—all of these had been laid down and sacrificed to the equestrian gods” (12).
  • “He and his horse lunched in a green-grassed grove of birch trees two hundred yards off a winding, slope-shouldered road. The plan had been for him to move inland, where fewer people might know him, away from the equestrian world that centered nearer the coast, but there in that strand of trees, he felt a new sense of unease bloom in his gut” (24).
  • “But of course that was simplifying. Storytelling. Truth was that their dissolution was gradual and sometimes numbingly slow. It was in the works for years. Decades” (43).
  • “But above this ruthlessness was a thin skin of civility” (63).
  • “Lena imagined that most young people went through a certain process of redefining family. You grow up and your world consists of little more than your parents, maybe siblings, grandparents at a stretch. You get married and you love your spouse, but family is still those old parents, siblings, grandparents. It isn’t until you have kids that you understand that you’ve created a new unit, that the old definition of family has been altered” (64).
  • “As his life leached away, soaking into his bed and sheets and blankets, as the few breaths he had left escaped his lungs one by one, the boys saw him less and less” (68).
  • “It was when they were together, though, whether in a period of peace or war, that they drank with such abandon” (83).
  • “Frank got to them, boots in hand, his feet socked with sand” (88).
  • “And from there it got bad. Frank tagged his brother twice in the ribs before Silas recovered the upper hand, straddled his brother’s torso, and laid fist after fist into his face and head and shoulders. All the while cursing him in every fashion one could imagine. People screamed. The bartender was on the phone. Frank managed to get out from under Silas and issue two sickening blows to his face before a posse of men took hold of the two of them from behind, pulled them apart. Both men were wet with blood and saliva and sweat. Both chests heaved with hatred” (90-91).
  • “He hadn’t talked about his brother in months, and without that cloud hanging over them they became what Lena had always wanted them to be: a happy couple working and raising their son and slowly, quietly getting older” (113).
  • “He’d gone years without exchanging a single word with his brother, but Frank had always been there. And now he wasn’t. Silas’s mind was hurled back to the days when he and Frank would ride through the great, wet, fern-strewn woods of the San Geronimo Valley, passing hours upon hours of their childhood traversing trails and trotting across streams and chucking rocks and generally being boys and brothers, trusting each other instinctually, loving each other implicitly” (125-126).
  • “And with that Lena understood something that had eluded her through the years of the two men’s feuding: that it really was all based on nothing. There had been moments—that night with the hat, the selling of Ace, the shooting, the blister beetles, as well as whatever had been done without her knowing, both before and after she’d entered the world of the Van Loys—but none of those occasions, not even when added together, fully explained the war between the brothers” (129).
  • “This guilt wedged itself in her gut and dislodged something” (143).
  • “He rode on until the jagged mountains morphed into easy-rolling hills, until the sun was just peeking over those hills behind him, until he spied the coastal fog bank hanging squat in the distant sky, until he could smell the fishy wind and hear the aberrant whooshing of cars down 101” (157).
  • “He couldn’t keep from it. Sitting in the chair outside his trailer, the chair in which Frank had set his bones just a few nights prior, or riding atop any one of his half-dozen horses—circling the arena, or loping and galloping across the trails cutting across his land—he tried to work out the specifics of a murder. Gun. Knife. Explosives. Poison. Push him off a cliff. Push him off a boat. How the fuck was he supposed to get him on a boat? Make it look like a suicide. Make it look random, a robbery. Do it himself. Outsource it. Pin it on some other sorry son of a bitch. Plenty of folks Silas wouldn’t mind getting rid of, as long as he was at it. Other trainers. Stable owners. Fuckers who mistakenly thought they were better than Silas Van Loy” (167).
  • “Frank stood stone still save for the unsteady rise and fall of his chest. What chaos lived within the silence of that predawn. What dissonance rang through Silas’s head. Though he couldn’t have said just how, he knew that the end of his life had begun” (172).
  • “Silas removed his boots and walked down into the surf. The pain of the cold shot through past his knees, but it served only to elevate the strange, black euphoria that had overtaken him. He sensed that he was not standing merely at the edge of a continent, but at the precipice of death itself” (173).
  • “She wanted to kill him, her husband’s murderer, but she struggled to reconcile the man who shot Frank with the one who now caressed an injured animal” (183).
  • “How many nights had Lena dreamed of Silas? How often had she thought of Frank? The questions were ludicrous. How many molecules made up the air? How many atoms locked together to construct the earth? It was all immeasurable—her past and present, her days and nights, her love and anger and grief” (188).
  • “It told her nothing, of course, but what she’d already known, that they were bonded, those brothers, in a way she’d always nearly admired. Hatred, after all, did not flare up from a void. There must have been something there in the first place. Love. Passion, even. And this was what led to Frank’s death, their mutual commitment to each other over all else” (191).
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About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
This entry was posted in book, fiction, novel, sentences, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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