Kent Nelson – Land that Moves, Land that Stands Still

Apparently your bookslut has only been picking books written by those with a Juris Doctor degree. Kent Nelson graduated from Yale with a degree in Political Science and then went on to Harvard Law where he earned a JD in Environmental Law. To be honest, he strikes me as a bit of a bum; the nomadic sort that is never happy with life. It seems like he’s been trying to “find himself” since 1943 when he first latched on to his mom’s breast. Those types annoy me. Anyway, Land that Moves, Land that Stands Still was published in 2003 and set in the Black Hills of South Dakota on a farm.

The novel opens with Mattie reveling in the sounds and sights of the farm, before assisting her husband in manual labor. Her husband doesn’t last long as a living character as a farming accident quickly takes his life, but his ghost haunts the novel as he remains quite present. After his death, Mattie learns that he was gay and had been having affairs with men for years. He kept all the damning evidence in the car that Mattie refused to get in. At times, Nelson tries too hard to set the scene of how Mattie and her daughter deal with husband/father’s lifestyle. The novel also becomes cluttered with its many subplots and concurrent plots and nearly every horrible thing that can happen happens. There’s an attempted rape, an attempted murder, thievery, a high school English teacher sleeping with this students, murder of pets (including the drowning of a cat), barroom brawls, drugs, and some pretty serious child abuse. Worse? All the women are broken by the men in their lives and they all turn to men to fix them. The only character that didn’t make me want to scream was the Indian runaway, Elton and the Mexican neighbor, Hector, who had to lay low because he wasn’t a legal citizen.
The writing is poetic and the stories are intricately woven, but Nelson could have benefited from some serious cutting down. The dialogue is well done between the mother and daughter, but stilted at other times, especially in the heterosexual relationships where the men and women seem to be playing stereotypical roles from the hard fucking of the drug deal in the trailer park to the sweet, soft love-making of the English teacher who brings her to her first orgasm with his poetry and mouth. For a man who has spent so much time “living life” and “finding himself,” his story seems contrived and his characters fit in boxes.

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