Land That Moves, Land That Stands Still
Kent Nelson is a writer who is at home, both literally and artistically, in the West. And in his novel, Land That Moves, Land That Stands Still, he settles his story within the rugged landscape of contemporary, central South Dakota, where a transplanted couple from the East—Haney and Mattie Remmel—run a modest cattle operation on a modest spread. Early on in the novel, Haney (a sculptor by temperament and by talent) dies in an automobile accident, and Mattie is left behind to puzzle out the mysteries of her husband’s life. In the last year or so before Haney’s death, the marriage had fallen into a kind of emotional sterility, and Mattie yearns for some understanding of how and why that came to be.
As Haney physically exits Mattie’s life, so do others enter that life: her twenty-something daughter, Shelley, comes back to the ranch to help her mother sort out some of the mess that has become her life; and a woman named Dawn, carrying an obscure personal history of her own but good with machines, shows up and is taken on as a hired hand. Together, these three women resume the life of the ranch while exploring their own private lives as women.
Nelson fills these lives with an abundance of solid, workaday detail. Work, in fact, becomes part of the ineluctable reality of the women’s world: repairing machines, cutting hay, welding, and wielding tools. Nelson’s women work, and in doing so reinvest their lives with value. Nelson is also a keen artist of the landscape these women inhabit; readers are taken into the geographies of hillock, of draw, of field, a topography every bit as complex and meaningful as that of the human heart. As each woman grapples with the matter of their...
(The entire section is 453 words.)