Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Patterns of Redemption in Small-Town Wyoming ; A Movie Version with Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez Is Coming This Christmas

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Patterns of Redemption in Small-Town Wyoming ; A Movie Version with Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez Is Coming This Christmas

Article excerpt

Mark Spragg's third novel is a tale of redemption, forgiveness, and the forging of family - and there's no mistaking those themes. The tale unfolds as Jean and her 9-year-old daughter, Griff, escape an abusive boyfriend and flee to a farm owned by Griff's grandfather. Griff has never met the old man named Einar, and Jean hasn't seen him since her husband was killed in a car accident.

The story is intensely human, gently probing the longing for family and the inescapable grip of the past. Swiftly shifting perspectives lend the novel a pleasing dynamism and an energy that rarely lags. The writing is engaging, and the landscape of small- town Wyoming, just outside Yellowstone, is a vivid complement to the novel's mood.

But for the most part, "An Unfinished Life" is predictable, and many of its thematic metaphors are too obvious. The message of forgiveness appears, sometimes not so subtly, on almost every page.

As the future folds back on the past, the story offers redemption that ultimately feels too tidy in its forms. For instance, a friend of Einar decides that he and his old war buddy must transport a bear that once mauled him from the zoo to a more dignified death in the wild.

Later, when Jean's old boyfriend bursts back onto the scene, he beats Griff and her grandfather as he once beat Jean - and in watching Jean come close to death, Einar inches past his wrath over her role in the car crash that killed his son.

Though Einar blames Jean for that accident, he eventually teaches her daughter to drive, and easily forgives Griff when she nearly kills him with the truck.

Pleasing as some of these echoes are, an engaged reader can foresee the outcome: abused woman seeks shelter with bitter old man; darling daughter wins over old man; abusive boyfriend returns, but good people triumph; and an unusual but loving family is forged. …

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