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Book Review: Prairie Dog Blues

April 17, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 176

Fiction Prairie Dog Blues Mark Conkling 2011 Sunstone Press 230 pages

In his first novel, Prairie Dog Blues, writer Mark Conkling tells the complicated story of the Corley family. With each member of the clan struggling with their own problems, the Corleys decide to sell part of the family land. The hope of the family's matriarch, Mom Corley, is that the money will improve their lives individually and bring all of them closer together. As it turns out, prairie dogs elevate the family beyond their personal concerns to fulfill Mom's dreams of a strong, unified clan.

Mom and Pop Corley (their given names are Janice and Roy, but everyone in the community calls them Mom and Pop) attend the final signing for the sale of fifteen acres of their property in Albuquerque, New Mexico with their three children, Jeff, Ida, and Junior. The goal of the sale is to fund Mom and Pop's retirement and to provide each of their troubled children with seed money that will allow them to restructure their lives. Jeff, the oldest, is a dentist with a gambling problem and all of the debt that goes with that lifestyle. The middle child, Ida, is a nurse who, when not dreaming of earning a master's degree, uses her looks to attract the wrong kind of attention from men. Junior is the youngest and the most troubled with a nearly debilitating drinking problem. Mom believes the multi-million dollar sale of the property to a developer will solve all of their problems. But that dream is threatened by a new city ordinance that will restrict development on properties where prairie dogs live. This news halts the sale and heightens the level of desperation for each of the Corleys.

The initial attempts Pop and Junior make to remove the prairie dogs are awkward and violent. News of the city ordinance and the delayed sale of the Corleys' fifteen acres draws protestors from the Forest Guardians, a group of environmental activists. The Forest Guardians, led by Donald Pressman, fight the Corleys' efforts to remove the prairie dogs by taking legal action and bringing in a prairie dog expert to bolster their cause.

This is a story that takes several unexpected turns, which is fantastic for holding the reader's attention. As each attempt to salvage the sale of the property is initiated, the author reveals more of the inner workings of the main characters. Conkling shares the struggles of each member of the Corley family and the steps they take to save their lives from destruction. While Mom holds on to the hope she believes the money will bring until the very end, her husband and children ultimately find their way to better lives and a renewed sense of family as a result of the crisis the prairie dogs' presence causes.

This is a delightful story. It is well written and ambitious in its display of the human condition. Conkling, a former professor of psychology and philosophy, skillfully applies his knowledge of human behavior to create multidimensional characters that conjure up an array of emotions in the reader.

Prairie Dog Blues is a dynamic read; brilliant. I highly recommended it.

Melissa Brown Levine for Independent Professional Book Reviewers

Melissa Brown Levine is a writer, book reviewer and manuscript consultant. She is the author of "I Need to Make Promises: A Novella and Stories." Read an excerpt at

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