Carrie La Seur’s finely crafted first novel — one of this year’s strongest debuts so far — chronicles a woman’s complicated relationship with her hometown of Billings, Montana, her relatives who stayed behind and her ancestral history. La Seur’s graceful prose in The Home Place complements her incisive character studies of a family that has managed to keep most of its problems behind closed doors.
Alma Terrebonne left Billings and the family’s “home place” more than 15 years ago to attend college on a full scholarship, shortly after her parents were killed in a car accident that maimed her younger sister, Vicky. Now an attorney in Seattle, Alma only returns to Billings to attend family events.
So when Vicky is found frozen to death, Alma comes home. The single mother of 11-year-old Brittany, Vicky led a troubled life of drugs, bad boyfriends and debt. Alma plans to arrange Vicky’s funeral, visit with her older brother, Pete, and her grandmother, and settle Brittany with her aunt and uncle who had raised Vicky after their parents’ death.
But Alma finds her family in disarray. A slimy land agent has been threatening local families, including the Terrebonnes, over mining rights to their properties. Alma can’t deny that she still has feelings for her high school boyfriend, Chance Murphy, who lives on the adjoining farm. And Alma’s plans are put on hold when she realizes Vicky’s death may not have been an accident.
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La Seur poignantly shows how characters are influenced by a sense of place, affecting their choices in life. The Montana land that makes up the Terrebonnes’ home has been owned by the family for generations, representing all that the family was, what it will be and what it struggles with now. No one lives on the property, yet no one wants to sell the homestead. About an hour from Billings, the place is a refuge as well as a place of contention, paralleling the Terrebonnes’ lives.
Oline H. Cogdill reviewed this book for The Associated Press.