As Evelynne Lowry, the daughter of a copper baron, comes of age in early 20th century Montana, the lives of horses dovetail with the lives of people and her own quest for womanhood becomes inextricably intertwined with the future of two men who face nearly insurmountable losses—a lonely steer wrestler named Zion from the Montana highline, and a Cheyenne team roper named William Black Kettle, the descendant of peace chiefs. An epic that runs from the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 to the ore and industry of the 1930s, American Copper is a novel not only about America’s hidden desire for regeneration through violence but about the ultimate cost of forgiveness and the demands of atonement. The novel explores the genocidal colonization of the Cheyenne, the rise of big copper, and the unrelenting ascent of dominant culture. Evelynne’s story is a poignant elegy to horses, cowboys both native and euro-american, the stubbornness of our collective inhumanity, and the nature of hope. A song to the nation, American Copper has been touted as a gorgeous and radiant novel of race, courage and love.
“Devotees… will find Ray’s lyric, often poetic saga to be equal to McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and Harrison’s Legends of the Fall.” –Kirkus (starred review)
Set against the wide plains and soaring mountainscapes of Montana, this is the American West re-envisioned, imbued with unconditional violence, but also timeless understandings of loyalty, intimacy, and home.
STARRED REVIEW FROM KIRKUS REVIEWS
AMERICAN COPPER Poet and short story writer Ray debuts as a novelist with a gripping epic of the Montana frontier.
Son of a poor immigrant Czech, Josef Lowry raged with a “hunger in him to break the world,” but what he fractures is his children and all that’s worthy within himself. Montana’s copper brought riches and power to Lowry, who was known as the Baron. Tomás and Evelynne, his children, are property: guarded, directed, dominated. First meditating on the Sand Creek Massacre as emblematic of white-Cheyenne racial tension, the heart of the story begins when, home safe from World War I, Tomás dies in an accident. Evelynne turns recluse, Emily Dickinson–like, silent but for published poetry. Then two very different men come into her life. Zion is a sharecropper’s son and rodeo rider with a heart-ripping history of hardship. William Black Kettle is a Catholic-educated Cheyenne straddling Native American and white cultures. The prose is elegant, precise, and observant, as when Zion notes there are “only two races of men…[d]ecent and unprincipled.” Ray’s story travels from the Tongue River in Cheyenne country to scabby little towns marring the vast prairie and then high up to the Continental Divide. With the Evelynne-Zion-William triangle of desire and despair, Ray casts an unsparing eye on the brutal racism of the American frontier and the dark hubris that made the settlement of the West both productive and destructive. Thematically, Ray fuses tragedy into rebirth, covering a timeline of nearly four decades in a narrative as natural, pure, and clear as water flowing from a snow-covered peak.
Devotees of the genre will find Ray’s lyric, often poetic saga to be equal to McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and Harrison’s Legends of the Fall.
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AMERICAN COPPER RECEIVES SOME LOVE AND CRITICAL ACCLAIM FROM ESQUIRE, TIN HOUSE, KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred), LIBRARY JOURNAL, BOOKLIST, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, BIG SKY JOURNAL, THE MISSOULIAN, HIGH DESERT JOURNAL, THE BILLINGS GAZETTE, THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS, MONTANA QUARTERLY, THE LIVINGSTON ENTERPRISE, THE BOZEMAN CHRONICLE, THE MISSOULA INDEPENDENT, LAST BEST NEWS, BILLINGS OUTPOST, THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST INLANDER, THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY, BIBLIOGRAPHING, AND THE QUIVERING PEN.
Praise from Authors and Booksellers
“Tough, poetic, and beautiful.”
—SHERMAN ALEXIE, Pen Faulkner Award Winner, War Dances
“An expansive and luminous tale of the American West told through crystalline prose. American Copper ushers Shann Ray into the company of Montana’s finest writers. It’s a read as compelling as Harrison’s masterwork Legends of the Fall and Kittredge’s Willow Field. Heartbreaking and heart pounding and not to be missed.”
—DEBRA MAGPIE EARLING, Perma Red
“Shann Ray’s prose brings to mind Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx but is, thankfully, entirely his own. His work is lyrical, prophetic, brutal yet ultimately hopeful.”
—DAVE EGGERS, National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, What is the What
“Every once in a while a book falls into your hands that is so beautifully written, deeply affecting, and powerful that it burrows into your heart and makes a lasting place there. American Copper is that book. Shann Ray’s novel is a triumph; an ode to the majesty of the early 20th century Montana landscape, a tender evocation of the passions and sorrows of its people, and a piercing look at the ravages of racism, greed, and violence. Ultimately, this book’s power lies in its characters, all of whom I came to care deeply about, worry over, and wish for as one by one they came to life on the page. A stunning portrayal of the scope of the human spirit, and the many paths to grace.”
—LAURIE PAUS, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Washington
“American Copper is a spacious and stirring book that arcs itself across the dark skies of the West. Centered on Evelynne Lowry, privileged daughter of an insatiable copper king, the novel divines the deepest sources of American tragedy—the implacability of wealth, the heartlessness of colonialism, the rage of racial injustice. Shann Ray’s beautiful prose blends the lyrical yearning of James Welch with the historic sweep of Philipp Meyer to create an epic tale anchored in bitter loss and annealed by powerful love.”
—ALYSON HAGY, Boleto
“Some books devour their readers; other books are written to be devoured. Shann Ray’s AMERICAN COPPER is that rare book that does both. With an emotional heart as enormous as the Montana mountains, it traces nearly a century of American life through its rich cast, and it does so without the slightest effort. In one breath you’ll marvel at Ray’s poetic lyricism, with the next you’ll grunt at his toughness. And in between you’ll turn the pages impulsively. With AMERICAN COPPER, Ray announces himself as one of the finest writers working today.”
—PETER GEYE, The Lighthouse Road
“In American Copper, Shann Ray harnesses his formidable sensibilities as both poet and short-form fiction writer to create a balance between the intimate and the epic. Contrasting Montana’s early-day rodeo riders with the rise of a dictatorial copper baron, the entire state becomes not only a backdrop but a mirror for complicated clashes of race and class, family and tribe, gender and society. Ray’s range of characterizations reminds us that despite its mythic tropes, the West has been a place of mind-boggling identities and all-too-human tragedies for a very long time. I was reminded as much of the tribal folklore of James Willard Schultz as the fearless genre-bending of Dorothy M. Johnson, and the pitch perfect naturalism of James Welch. No small feat.”
—MALCOLM BROOKS, Painted Horses
“This grave, unusual novel unfolds with a beautiful evenhandedness, balancing the outer world and the inner life, Cheyenne and white experiences of early 20th-century Montana. Ray’s feel for the heart and soul of Montana and its people—all its people—graces every page.”
—ANDREA BARRETT, National Book Award Winner, Ship Fever
“In American Copper, Shann Ray takes the myths of our well-trod history and reveals the murmuring undercurrents. His characters are iconic but visceral, grown from the dirt. And the writing is gorgeous, the work of a poet. A book from Ray is an experience to be savored.”
—ANDREA PEACOCK, Elk River Books, Livingston, Montana
“A new addition to the canon of the American West, American Copper is a truly captivating novel intertwining three lives in early 20th century Montana. Ray’s writing is lyrical yet concise and perfectly captures the hardness of humanity–violence, racism, control, greed–but is driven by a silver thread of love and chosen resilience of spirit. The characters are flawed and sometimes dark in thought and action, but the novel maintains a light that can only be accomplished by a thorough understanding of love and forgiveness. American Copper is tough, real, and beautiful. It’s a must-read for booksellers and literature-lovers, and will surely become a favorite not just in the West but across the states.”
—JESS LUCHT, Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, Washingon
“Loved it! American Copper is an important book for anyone interested in Montana history and the relationships among the peoples of the early Northwest Territory. Evelynne, Zion, And William Black Kettle reflect the fierce, independent, determined entanglements that were the West, their three names will be remembered long after finishing the book.”
—BARBARA THEROUX, Fact and Fiction, Missoula, Montana
“Shann Ray’s spare yet expansive novel of the West is powerful and tragic, giving us the cultural cross-section of Montana history we’re rarely lucky enough to find. American Copper shimmers like its namesake – beautifully written and deeply evocative with characters who continue to live with the reader even after setting the book down.”
—ARIANA PALIOBAGIS, Country Bookshelf, Bozeman, Montana
“Shann Ray is one of the best writers writing today. Not just ‘in the West,’ like so many people like to say, but in the nation. Shann writes the West the way it should be written, with unflinching love, loss, violence, and above all, beauty.”
—CHARLES FINN, Editor, High Desert Journal
“Set in the early 1900’s, in Montana, and written in a voice and style that is hard to put down, harder to forget. Josef mines copper and builds a rich family legacy, while raising his son and daughter who both forge legacies of their own, in literary, industrial and natural worlds. The gorgeous prose is the perfect bearer of souls in all states—being born, living, being broken open, moving through time.”
—JANIS SEGRESS, Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle, Washington
“In the rough country of the last wild days of Montana, a group of fascinating, original characters unearth the human cost of prosperity and Westward expansion. American Copper moves seamlessly from multiple points-of-view, revealing a gleaming industrial empire surrounded by a desperate wilderness. Evelynne Lowry is the rising daughter of a copper baron obsessed with the expansion and legacy of his fortune. Sliding downward is William Black Kettle, a direct descendant of Native American legends all but forgotten now in the early 20th century. Tangled in the landscape with them is Zion, a horseman whose talents at steer wrestling are moments of sheer domination as fleeting as his place in the world. Through these three minds the rawness of life is melded by heat and tension into something beautiful. Shann Ray’s narrative style reflects many great writing talents of the past, too numerous to name. His uniquely compassionate view of the Montana land, its heritage, and its people is all his own to claim. American Copper left me with the rarest of feelings: grateful to have read it.”
—GEOFFREY JENNINGS, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kansas