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High Plains Book Awards finalist: ‘And It Will Be a Beautiful Life’ by Craig Lancaster

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Author Craig Lancaster in “And It Will Be a Beautiful Life” presents Max Wendt who lives a malfunctioned life. The first scene sets the hapless tone of the story as Wendt accidentally clips a fellow airplane passenger with his backpack while he desperately attempts to return home. He fails. Wendt’s wife divorces him for his constant absences traveling into the field as a pipeline inspector. This ending of his marriage forces him to start a new path in living and a new way of relating to his daughter. Dynamic changes also take place in his job situation, already riddled with taxing relationships with co-workers, with the hire of a new crew member. Then fortuitously, he meets an unexpected and unusual new friend during his travels.

“And It Will Be a Beautiful Life,” a finalist for the High Plains Book Award in Fiction, peels back an ordinary, mundane life to expose all the sentiments and observations of one human in a humorous, frustrating, flawed, and at times, heartwarming way. Author Lancaster creates a character who acts in unlovable ways, but garners sympathy and support. Wendt exposes his inner self through communications via one-on-one conversations, texts, emails and phone calls with those in his life. Through well-written descriptive script and imagery, Lancaster conveys the angst, hostility or love in a moment.

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Wendt neurotically records where he travels and counts the minutes and miles he covers. He speaks and acts out what most would think, but not articulate, as he cautions his daughter to not comment on his eating habits or annihilates personal property. His thoughts dig under the skin as he works out his relationship with his new co-worker and friend, but he also warms the soul, as he notices the black of night opening to colors, smearing across the horizon at daybreak. All the details are exposed and meticulously noted as in Wendt’s hotel room, at a remote restaurant, or in the car as he encounters an angry landowner in his work.

The prickly and frustrating journey with Wendt does flow into a surprising ending “and it will be a beautiful life.”

Stella Fong is host to Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region on Yellowstone Public Radio, author of Flavors Under the Big Sky: Recipes and Stories from Yellowstone Public Radio and Beyond, Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food, and a contributor to The Last Best Plates column for the Billings Gazette, Missoulian, and Montana Standard.

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