In literature, particularly prominent settings are often described as functioning as an additional character in a book. But Susan Froderberg takes it a step further—in her unusual but promising debut novel, the rural Arizona landscape echoes in every word of the sparse, beautiful prose.

In Old Border Road, Froderberg follows Katherine, a 17-year-old essentially left to fend for herself by her indifferent, divorced parents, each of whom has moved on to a new life. She’s still in high school when she marries Son, a local boy of Native American heritage, and goes to live with him and his parents in their old adobe ranch house, which seems to hold infinite stories in its walls. Son’s parents—whom Katherine calls Rose and Rose’s Daddy—pick up where her own never had, teaching her the basics of homemaking and the daily struggles of marriage. Katherine finds peace in the land, and in the horses that she tends. But the land soon betrays her too, when the region suffers a drought, and Son and Katherine’s relationship is too young and feeble to weather the hardship it brings to the family. Son turns to alcohol and infidelity, and an unplanned pregnancy eventually forces Katherine to make a difficult decision.

Froderberg makes narrative sacrifices to her atmospheric prose, particularly in the pacing, which, like the tumbleweed that swirls through her desert landscapes, seems to meander and quicken at a whim. But she renders the bleak borderlands so completely and with such finesse that the glitches feel inconsequential, even purposeful, cementing her as an exciting new writer to watch.

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