Reading Ron Carlson’s novel “Five Skies” was one of those wonderful reading experiences that reminds me of why I love to read. It is a story of redemption. Three men meet on a ragged plateau in Idaho. They are there to build a large and spectacular project. For most of the story the reader isn’t quite sure what the project is. What the reader learns through Carlson’s meticulous prose is the incredible detail and work involved in digging holes for posts, paving a road and making a sumptuous sandwich. But as the men skillfully build, we learn that they are each running away from their lives. With sparse language and curt exchanges between the men we learn that Arthur Keyes, a huge, strong man, has run away from the guilt and sadness of his brother’s death. Darwin Gallegos, the foreman of the project, has deep seeded rage over the accidental death of his wife. And Ronnie Pannelli, a gangly nineteen year old is running from a life of petty crime.
Carlson uses the parallel of constructing the spectacular project with the building and repairing the lives of these men. One of the strengths of the Ron Carlson’s writing is the slow and skillful way he develops his characters. He also uses the wonderful devices of literature that make a story come alive, metaphors, foreshadowing and personification. His descriptions of the Western skies over this Idaho plateau are beautiful. His phrases such as, “in some ebony quadrant of the sky there were ghosted flashes of an electrical storm blooming like small stars……” are lyrical. The names of the places, the ranch called, “Rio Difficulto” and the town called “Mercy” all reflect the story Ron Carlson is so skillfully presenting to the reader.
The three men learn life lessons from the stark landscape of the Idaho plateau and the bizarre project they are building. With the slow, meticulous building of the “ramp to nowhere” the three men find ways to rebuild their broken lives. The ending is powerful and riveting. The reader of “Five Skies” finds a story of loss and redemption that is beautifully written and one that will bring up some thoughtful questions about life, and the environment. How we appreciate them and how sometimes we mistreat them.