Alyson Hagy was a passionate reader from the start, and she even tried her hand at writing a few Nancy Drew rip-off novels — when she was 9. But it wasn’t until she left her family’s Virginia farm to go to college that she began to think like a writer.
“The big change came when I went from rural Virginia to New England for college and found myself surrounded by different voices, a different landscape, a different America from the one I knew,” she said in a telephone interview.
A keen sense of place unlocked Hagy’s creative energy, and when she moved to Wyoming to take a teaching job, she found her writing voice, sharp, unsentimental, and richly observant.
“The landscape is tremendous out here, huge and gorgeous and treacherous. And the culture is very different in some ways, so that was intriguing. I had a sense — right away — that I could write if I lived out here, though I didn’t intend to write about the West.”
Of course, she did. Her third novel (and seventh book), “Boleto,” published by Graywolf Press, solidifies her place among iconic chroniclers of the changing West, including Rick Bass, Wallace Stegner and Annie Proulx. Hagy tells the story of Will Testerman, a young horse trainer who buys a filly so beautiful she that has the potential to shape his future.
New money reshaping Old West
Hagy’s portraits of Will’s cancer-stricken mother, embittered father and struggling neighbors creates a portrait of the Old West that is serving, and slowly being starved by, a complex network of new money that is reshaping Wyoming.
“Big money has been a serious influence in the West since the arrival of the first land barons. And Wyoming itself has long been a ‘colony’ of the extractive industries —coal, oil and gas, etc., and foreign money is part of that mix. It’s also true that resort communities in the West attract international jet setters,” says Hagy.
“So, yes, money is a player out here and always will be. Money has also been a decisive factor in the horse business forever. There’s a hierarchy in the horse world, no matter whether you’re working in polo or rodeo or show jumping. These dynamics are interesting to me.”
‘This isn’t a horse book’
Katie Dublinski, Hagy’s editor at Graywolf Press, says there are two types of readers: those who enjoy books about horses, and those who do not. “I would put myself into that latter category. Perhaps I read too many books as a child about horses meeting sad fates. But this isn’t a horse book. It’s smart and surprising and just happens to have horses in the backdrop. But it’s about Western people and especially about men. Alyson has a very interesting, insightful way of writing about men.”
One of the tropes of the Western storytelling is that line, “You’re not from around here, are you?” So in many ways, it’s bold for Hagy to tell the story of Wyoming’s people.
“I’m not considered a local. I’ll need another 15 years for that, at best. But many Wyomingites seem to respond to my work positively. I try to listen to the stories I hear. I try to do my legwork and get the details right. If I have a goal, it’s to tell the less expected stories of this region, and the locals seem to appreciate that effort.”