Shortlisted for the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction
September 5, 2018
When Jackie Dunbar's father dies, she takes a leave from medical school and goes back to the family cattle ranch in Colorado to set affairs in order. But what she finds derails her: The Dunbar ranch is bankrupt, her sister is having a nervous breakdown, and the oil and gas industry has changed the landscape of this small western town both literally and figuratively, tempting her to sell a gas lease to save the family land. There is fencing to be repaired and calves to be born, and no one—except Jackie herself—to take control. But then a gas well explodes in the neighboring ranch, and the fallout sets off a chain of events that will strain trust, sever old relationships, and ignite new ones. Rebecca Clarren's Kickdown is a tautly written debut novel about two sisters and the Iraq war veteran who steps in to help. It is a timeless and timely meditation on the grief wrought by death, war, and environmental destruction. Kickdown, like Kent Haruf's Plainsong or Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone, weaves together the threads of land, family, failure, and perseverance to create a gritty tale about rural America.
"KICKDOWN is an important, urgent novel. It’s about ecological destruction, but it’s also about resistance, compassion, and love. Rebecca Clarren vividly depicts the beauty and the toughness of the American West in this timely, extraordinary debut.”
—Carter Sickels, author of The Evening Hour, winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award and a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.
"Becca Clarren's book is deep, true, achingly pure, as stripped of glamor and pretense as the beautiful desolation it describes. With an unflinching eye for the unsettling political and environmental issues of our time, Clarren captures perfectly the heartland of our country and the hearts of those whose old answers have suddenly failed them--they are all strangers to themselves, full of wonder and worry, wild impulses, inarticulate feelings. KICKDOWN is what life sounds like when we give up the search for who we thought we were supposed to be, and begin the search for our own true humanity."
—Karen Fisher, author of A Sudden Country, finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Prize
“Exquisitely written, Rebecca Clarren’s novel reminds you of the power of fiction — the way it can engage with contemporary politics, and still remain, at its heart, an imaginative art form. The prose is beautiful; the ideas are unflinching; the narrative throughline will propel you forward unstoppably. Clarren’s great talent, though, is engagement with character. You care about these people and, through caring, you are transformed. A brilliant book.”
—Pauls Toutonghi, author of Evel Knievel Days and Dog, Gone
"Because of aridity, because of 500,000 square miles of federal land, the West is eternal. What changes are its villains and good guys. Rebecca Clarren’s Kickdown is a worthy companion to our best Western novels. Its characters live and breathe, and the land and their work on the land remain at the center of this fine first novel. Most impressive are Clarren's descriptions of the unrelenting work that makes western ranches the most beautiful of man-made landscapes."
— Ed Marston, former publisher, High Country News