The valley beneath Buck’s Peak is home to a Family led by a determined survivalist, a man who does not trust anyone except himself. His children only leave the home to work in his various local construction projects and to worship at church. The sons learn welding and heavy equipment operation, the daughters learn homemaking and are also used as general laborers when needed. The author, Tara, is the youngest of seven children.
Life for the Westover family is a seemingly never-ending array of accidents, workplace injuries and intense sibling rivalry, interspersed with stern lectures delivered by an indefatigable father. This man is the central character of the Memoir, and the author portrays him as single-minded in his belief that his lifestyle alone can preserve his loved ones when society finally collapses. He is incessantly stockpiling food, fuel and weaponry as the 20th century comes to a close and is brought into a deep depression when the 21st century arrives without any apocalyptic events.
Tara enters her teens with a number of questions about herself, her family and the world outside the valley, only some of which can be answered by one of her brothers, who has left the home. She determines to leave herself, setting into motion events that will confuse her parents and generate cracks in her relationships with her other siblings, many of which will completely fracture in the coming years.
Over the ensuing years, as she seeks to find her voice in the academic world, Tara finds herself pulled in multiple directions as she desperately tries to maintain ties with those she loves yet finds that her educational pursuits stretch those ties to the maximum. Family loyalties are tested, changed and retested and continually shift over the years of her enlightenment, and she suffers significant emotional distress as a result.
This is a compelling read, at times so fantastic that it strains the reader’s ability to believe what is written on the pages. Many of the events sound like something one would expect during the 1920s or 1930s, not the 1990s. Her struggles to find peace with parents who do not share her priorities, however, are reminiscent of hundreds of accounts (fictional and not) from tales throughout human civilization. This in no way diminishes her pain; in fact, the sharp focus she presents about her specific situation helps to clarify the issues we all have with our own relations, as well as those we have read about elsewhere. Her prose is such that we experience the same depth of sadness that she feels as we read of final decisions with various relatives.
Rated: Moderate. There are dozens of instances of low- and medium-grade profanity and a number of detailed descriptions of physical abuse. The term and concept of “whore” is a featured theme throughout the work.