“Keesey writes lyrically and examines the ferocity of frontier life with an unromantic and penetrating gaze.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Orphaned after the death of her mother, eighteen-year-old Esther Chambers heads west in search of her only living relative. In the lawless town of Century, Oregon, she’s met by her distant cousin, a laconic cattle rancher named Ferris Pickett. Pick leads her to a tiny cabin by a small lake called “Half-a-Mind”, and there she begins her new life as a homesteader. If she can hold out for five years, the land will join Pick’s already impressive spread.
But Esther discovers that this town on the edge of civilization is in the midst of a range war. There’s plenty of land, but somehow it is not enough for the ranchers—it’s cattle against sheep, with water at a premium. In this charged climate, small incidents of violence swiftly escalate, and the bloodshed gets noticed by the railroad planners. Century will die without a railroad, a fate Pick and his men will go to any lengths to prevent. Meanwhile Esther finds her sympathies divided between her cousin and a sheepherder named Ben Cruff, a sworn enemy of the cattle ranchers. As her passion for Ben and her land grows, she begins to see she can’t be loyal to both.
Little Century maps our country’s cutthroat legacy of dispossession and greed, even as it celebrates the ecstatic visions of what America could become. In the tradition of such classics as My Antonia, Little Century is a resonant and moving debut novel by a writer of confident gifts.