In the 1950s, West Texas suffered the longest drought in the memory of most men then living. By that time, Charlie Flagg, the central character of this novel, was one of a dying breed of men who wrested their living from the harsh land of West Texas. The struggle made them fiercely independent, a trait personified in Charlie’s persistence throughout the seven dry years, his refusal to accept defeat, his opposition to federal aid programs and their inevitable bureaucratic regulations, his determination to stay on the land he loves and respects even as he suffers with that land. Charlie is by no means the typical cowboy hero. Self-sufficient, courageous, with a strong sense of right and wrong, he is also old and overweight, a thoroughly believable human being who has trouble communicating with the wife who loyally struggles to keep life in its pattern, the son who has no feel for the land but yearns for the rodeo circuit, the Mexican family who has worked for him for years and whose help he can no longer afford. Although Charlie never loses his dignity and never quits, he does not win out in the end. When the drought breaks, it has lasted too long and he is too old.
There is no surprise ending to this story, no magical solution to the harsh realities of life in West Texas. The reading of this novel lies not in what happens next but in the unfolding depth of a strong character and the clear picture of a time and a place.
Elmer Kelton is the author of over thirty novels set in the West and the recipient of awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Western Writers of America, the Western Literature Association, and others.