KNAU's Southwest Book Review: Braden Hepner's "Pale Harvest"

Feb 10, 2015

Pale Harvest is the breakout novel by writer Braden Hepner. Set in Utah's high desert in the 1970's, it explores themes of extinction; extinction of small towns, family and self. In KNAU's latest Southwest Book Review, Mary Sojourner says Pale Harvest is a powerful story of harshness and healing.

"Pale Harvest", by Braden Hepner
Credit bradenhepner.com

With his first book, Pale Harvest, Braden Hepner takes his place as a powerful Western novelist. Hepner is a master of quietly fierce writing. He's a born-for-it storyteller, his words emerging from "place" as a little high desert spring might. He knows desert. He knows stories. He knows that "place" shapes us inexorably. And in Pale Harvest, he understands the irresistible erotic power of restraint.

Hepner's Jack Selvedge is a young Mormon dairy rancher. He is as ancient as the earth he occupies, the earth that ultimately brings him into adulthood. Hepner writes Selvedge from his own life. He grants us his experiences; the country and human climate of the 1970's in the rural Mormon west; the muscle-aching work of keeping a dying dairy ranch alive; Jack's blood-deep longing for the troubled and irresistible Rebekah Rainsford; the faintly late-for-it sixties apocalyptic rants of his friend and nemesis, Heber Rafuse.

Few contemporary writers write about work. Hepner fills that gap. His hero, Jack Selvedge, works from waking to sleep, long, grimy, exhausting hours. Hepner writes, "...he worked, the only true salvation he'd ever known. He fed his grief with wrath and labor." Any reader, any writer who has known the harsh and healing nature of that kind of work will feel seen and known.

As powerfully as he writes his characters, as real as their conversations, cruelties and graces, it is Hepner's passion for the Western desert that drew me most deeply into Pale Harvest. He writes, "Here was a desert not made a garden, a waste place not comforted. Here was a solitary place left alone." He writes those words not in despair for the desert; he writes them with profound gratitude.

Pale Harvest is an antidote for a time when so much writing has become reduced to nattering blogs and overworked academic literature. Any reader, any writer in despair over this state of affairs will be heartened by Braden Hepner's work. His labor may have been medicine for him. His book assuredly is for us.