Diehl’s return to Wyoming from six years of service to his country—including combat in Iraq—is colored with a dark intent to even the score with his father. But before he can once again embrace that family, including Tony, a ranch hand with a military history of his own, Diehl’s single-minded purpose of revenge against his father precipitates events that turn his life in a direction never envisioned. His comfort through it all, is Jack, a Border Collie who Diehl rescues from certain death; a dog who, perhaps, rescues Diehl from himself.
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Big Diehl is an extended novel that shares the same character from an earlier novella by the same name. I haven’t read the novella but I doubt you need to in understanding the novel. In fact the story goes into so much background (near 100 pages) I think anything offered in the novella is repeated here so pick this up on its own easily. That said the story is rather absorbing and interesting. The writing is unique with a tone and voice that takes some getting used to and makes the story feel more like a slow walk down memory lane than a quick adventure, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Big Diehl is returning home to Wyoming after being discharged from the army. Although he managed to pick up a family in his travels, Diehl is still obsessed with getting revenge on his father for past abuse. When Diehl was young, his father turned to sexually abusing Diehl and he can’t let that pain and anger go. He thinks he’ll somehow kill his father and finally move past it, but a series of unfortunate events occur. First Diehl finds a border collie in the road, which leads to Diehl’s car being set on fire and ending in a rather spectacular explosion. Not wanting to stick around and answer uncomfortable questions, Diehl flees which sets him in the sights of a young girl with high sexual drive.
Not to give too much away but there are a series of events that revolve around Diehl from these circumstances which make up the thrust of the story. The third person perspective alternates between a pretty big cast but everything moves around Diehl. The action is pretty linear for all the points of view included and involves a lot of coincidences and some tricky maneuvering. There is some suspension of disbelief to go along with the story, but the writing does a commendable job for the most part in offering reasonable explanations. The rural Wyoming setting is in full effect from the dialogue, backdrop, to the attitudes and this plays an important part in the story.
For the most part I could buy into the action and reaction of Diehl and those around him even though a lot of the plot is well telegraphed. The moment certain people appear on page, you know trouble is going to follow and several of the actions and consequences are predictable. Diehl remains ignorant of these predictions though so again, you have to just go with the story even as Diehl makes some obvious mistakes. Part of being able to accept this is the solid characterization afforded Diehl. He’s a good old boy from Wyoming that wants to get away from his abusive but loving father and make his own life. He falls in love with the various boys and one night stands he has, showing a deep and sensitive heart. He’s not weak though and if anything he’s got a hard exterior and tough demeanor that hides such a sweet heart and temperament.
This juxtaposition makes for interesting reading even as the story moves along methodically. Diehl is very even tempered with no real extremes in either direction. He gently lets down one lover in a scene while in another he sees the love of his life (who didn’t have the courage or strength to leave with Diehl after high school) yet there is no anger, no animosity, just acceptance. Some of the story and these scenes in particular are a bit idealistic. It fits with the nature of the setting and characters and manages to be both easy and complicated at the same time. There is external conflict and tension and the question of what Diehl will do in the end is very much in the air for most of the story. This does help keep the story interesting with its slower pace and unique cadence.
Overall I found Big Diehl to be worth reading and entertaining. I’d definitely be interested in reading more of this author and I especially like how well he captured a complex individual in such an authentic manner. There are no big action scenes and shoot outs but instead a bumpy journey of a quiet cowboy trying to find his home and place in the world.
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