Friday, July 22, 2016

This is What I Want, by Craig Lancaster

In This is What I Want, Craig Lancaster departs from his usual setting of Billings, Montana, to the far western edge of the state.  The little town of Grandview is going through some changes and growing pains, as the Bakken shale oil boom brings high-paying jobs--and the young, rough, transient oil workers with cash in their pockets--to the area.  Those changes, along with changes in the lives of Grandview's citizens, come to a head on the weekend of Jamboree, the town's annual festival.

This is What I Want centers on Sam Kelvig and his family during Jamboree weekend.  Sam is head of Jamboree.  His son Samuel reluctantly comes home from California, where he has come out of the closet and is using a different first name.  His wife Patricia supports her family but struggles with her infatuation with Grandview's famous hometown author, home for his annual Jamboree appearance.  Sam's brother, angry over what he sees as a slight by Sam, is going off the rails.  And holding them all together is Sam's long-suffering mother.

Lancaster juggles these and many more characters, crisscrossing their stories into one eventful weekend.  A lot happens in little Grandview over the few days of the story, really too much to seem real.  But hey, it's fiction.  I especially liked the new sheriff in town.  As an outsider who, by virtue of her position, has quick access to Grandview insiders, her perspective sheds light on some of the unspoken mores and cultural relationships of the little town.  The powerful, long-serving, yet somewhat despicable mayor never gets what's coming to him; maybe his type never will.

This is What I Want is a slice of life of Grandview, with no big central plot, but a bunch of sub-plots woven together.  When the weekend is over, many characters' lives have changed, particularly in the Kelvig family.  Lancaster writes with a strong sense of place and creates memorable characters.  I'll probably never get to Grandview, or whatever little Montana town that could be a model for it, but Lancaster makes the town real and relate-able.  He captures the problems they face with the decline of small towns and the rise of the oil boom (however temporary it may be).   Pick up This is What I Want and enjoy a memorable Jamboree weekend in Grandview.

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