With a simple, lyrical writing style that sits somewhere between Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy, Savage Country tells the story of Elizabeth Coughlin, a determined woman left crippled by debt following the unexpected death of her foolhardy husband. In an act of desperation, Elizabeth enlists her husband’s mysterious brother to lead a buffalo hunt – which was a common, and exceedingly dangerous, get-rich-quick scheme in the years following the Civil War. Olmstead is one of the most under-the-radar American authors – if you’ve never read him before, do yourself a favor and start with this big, beautiful, often bloody adventure.
Savage Country is the brilliant western tale of a widow and her mysterious brother-in-law leading a buffalo hunt in Texas shortly after the civil war. The writing is very masculine without being macho and the period detail about buffalos, Indians and all things western is beyond fascinating. Olmstead manages somehow to convey the story and dialogue in a bare bones style but you can picture every character and scene with graphic detail. I don't know how he does it. It is a violent story but also poignant and haunting and certainly worth anyone's time.
— Mary T.
“The year was 1873 and all about was the evidence of boom and bust, shattered dreams, foolish ambition, depredation, shame, greed, and cruelty . . .”
Onto this broken Western stage rides Michael Coughlin, a Civil War veteran with an enigmatic past, come to town to settle his dead brother’s debt. Together with his widowed sister-in-law, Elizabeth, bankrupted by her husband’s folly and death, they embark on a massive, and hugely dangerous, buffalo hunt. Elizabeth hopes to salvage something of her former life and the lives of the hired men and their families who now depend on her; the buffalo hunt that her husband had planned, she now realizes, was his last hope for saving the land.
Elizabeth and Michael plunge south across the aptly named “dead line” demarcating Indian Territory from their home state of Kansas. Nothing could have prepared them for the dangers: rattlesnakes, rabies, wildfire, lightning strikes, blue northers, flash floods—and human treachery. With the Comanche in winter quarters, Elizabeth and Michael are on borrowed time, and the cruel work of harvesting the buffalo is unraveling their souls.
Bracing, direct, and quintessentially American, Olmstead’s gripping narrative follows that infamous hunt, which drove the buffalo to near extinction. Savage Country is the story of a moment in our history in which mass destruction of an animal population was seen as a road to economic salvation. But it’s also the intimate story of how that hunt changed Michael and Elizabeth forever.
About the Author
Robert Olmstead is the author of eight previous books. Coal Black Horse was the winner of the Heartland Prize for Fiction. The Coldest Night was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Far Bright Star was the winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Olmstead is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant and is a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.
“Robert Olmstead gets better with every book. If you know all of his previous books, you know how startling this fact is, and how startlingly good this writer is.” ─Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
“The precision and poetry of the author's language have a paradoxical effect: they make the setting strange and distinct while imbuing characters and their actions with a particular immediacy . . . A story about America told through its land and its animals and its diverse people and, especially, through the experiences of two vivid, singular, powerful characters. Another gorgeous, brutal masterpiece from a great American writer.” ─Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Olmstead has a Dickensian sense of character . . . such a quantity of characters can test any novelist — managing their proportions and appearances so they maintain their own identity and momentum while making room for everyone in the wings to reappear before fading from memory. Olmstead admirably navigates this challenge.” —New York Times Book Review
“This is a powerful depiction of the brutality of the Old West, where life was cheap and easily taken.” ─Publishers Weekly
“Fans of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove will enjoy this thoroughly researched epic Western.” ─Library Journal
“[A] deeply emotional experience . . . Savage Country is an unforgettable, unflinching, yet distinctly moving story of human greed and desire.” ─BookPage
“Like so many outstanding novels about the taming of the West, there is a tragic ambiguity at the heart of Olmstead’s brutal but beautiful tale of the last buffalo hunt. For a certain kind of uncompromising yet lyrical writer – think Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, or William Kittredge – the West offers a stage for a special kind of archetypal, almost Shakespearean tragedy, and Olmstead makes the most of it.” ─Booklist (starred review)
“[Olmstead] has crafted another dark, contemplative western with his new novel . . . his brutally spare sentences create an apocalyptic mood reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy.” ─ Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“[A] majestic, thrilling tale of a small band of people hunting buffalo in the territory south of Kansas in the tense and unpredictable years after the Civil War.” ─Columbus Dispatch