Christine Byl's Lookout is an unforgettable novel, both stunning and subtle, written with nuance and compassion. With all the down-to-earth lyricism displayed in her memoir, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, Byl transports readers to rural Montana in the 1980s, '90s and 2000s, where the Kinzler family lives, works and loves. These characters, whose bonds are gorgeously rendered and even inspirational in their imperfections, are deeply lovable.
Josiah Kinzler's family history includes alcoholism and suicide; he is alone in the world before he is 20 but possesses land, skills, a work ethic and strong ties to his neighbors. He marries Margaret Blanchard. Together they eke out a living in her father's hardware store and eventually through Josiah's highly regarded furniture-making and woodworking. Their two daughters, Louisa and Cody, are remarkably different from one another but as fiercely loving as their parents. The family grows into untraditional shapes, but they never lose their commitment to one another, with each member being fully developed and sensitively drawn.
Lookout contains evocative expressions of love, and it is lush in its descriptions of relationships, the natural world and Josiah's exquisite woodworking. Byl writes with an attention to the details of her characters and setting. Cody and her father are similarly laconic and watchful; they share a special bond, as displayed in a stunningly beautiful scene in which he proudly watches her run a chainsaw exactly as he'd taught her. Lookout specializes in the quiet observations of transcendent truths about many facets of life. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia