In the tradition of such classics as My Ántonia and the movie There Will Be Blood (based on the Upton Sinclair book Oil!), Anna Keesey’s Little Century is a resonant and moving debut novel by a writer of confident gifts.
Orphaned after the death of her mother, eighteen-year-old Esther Chambers heads west in search of her only living relative. In the lawless frontier town of Century, Oregon, she’s met by her distant cousin, a laconic cattle rancher named Ferris Pickett. Pick leads her to a tiny cabin by a small lake called Half-a-Mind, and there she begins her new life as a homesteader. If she can hold out for five years, the land will join Pick’s already impressive spread.
But Esther discovers that this town on the edge of civilization is in the midst of a range war. There’s plenty of land, but somehow it is not enough for the ranchers—it’s cattle against sheep, with water at a premium. In this charged climate, small incidents of violence swiftly escalate, and Esther finds her sympathies divided between her cousin and a sheepherder named Ben Cruff, a sworn enemy of the cattle ranchers. As her feelings for Ben and for her land grow, she begins to see she can’t be loyal to both.
Little Century maps our country’s cutthroat legacy of dispossession and greed, even as it celebrates the ecstatic visions of what America could become.
"It's happening again. I reread the last few pages of Anna Keesey's luminous novel Little Century and I'm weeping at the beauty of the language and the sweet sad happy heart wrenching end. This happens to me rarely, almost never, but it occurs when characters are so vivid that I despair at saying goodbye. The population of Little Century, Oregon, in the early days of the Twentieth Century are strangers to the reader to and eighteen year old Esther Chambers when she arrives there, an orphan, bereft after the death of her mother with no where else to turn but a distant cousin, cattle rancher Ferris Pickett. Pick, as he's known, convinces Esther to lie about her age and homestead a claim near his ranch that will provide much needed water to his herd. Esther quickly learns that the sheep ranchers need water, and grazing land, too, and finds herself enmeshed and conflicted in the the sheep versus cattle wars that raged across the West. The people of Little Century quickly become friends, not strangers, to the reader and to Esther, as the novel unfolds and we learn their stories, from the odd buckaroos to the secretive schoolmarm, the book loving sheep herder to the drug addicted store owner. Settling the West was hard, often ugly work. Little Century honors that in a very beautiful way."