In Colorado writer Claire Boyles’ debut collection of short stories, “Site Fidelity” (2021, W. W. Norton), many of the hard environmental truths of the West come alive in their most personal ways – water rights, endangered species, fracking, and flooding are pervasive throughout this title’s pages, but not through the broader perspective in which they are frequently discussed. These stories follow individual characters closely, sharing a personal glimpse into defining moments.
An aging nun battles with her faith while chaining herself to drill site machinery in protest. A chicken farmer hides her birds from the government after hard feelings over lost water rights. A married couple shelters in an abandoned sugar mill when they lose their home during a recession. Spanning time but taking place mostly in Colorado, “Site Fidelity” focuses heavily on the personal as well as the strong ties to a place that can lead to heartbreak.
The ten stories featured in Boyles’ collection each follow a different person at its center, but many feature recurring characters – most notably, sisters Ruth, Mano, and Theresa, the last of whom is also known as Sister Agnes Mary. While other small town-like connections thread their way through the book, the stories of these three and their strong relationship to one another stands out. Each woman faces her own crisis – Ruth struggles to raise her children and leave her unsupportive marriage; Mano desperately wants to call attention to environmental destruction while dealing with relationship issues of her own, and Sister Agnes Mary frets over the health of her community when her church approves a nearby oil and gas drill site. Through their individual struggles, set decades apart, one constant that remains is the sisters’ undying support of one another – as Ruth ponders, “sister love was like a gas – it could lift the barometric pressure of the entire atmosphere if you needed it to.”
While the sisters’ personal bonds remain strong, the complicated ties to where each character resides haunts all of them. The term site fidelity is described head on in “Legers,” the book’s opening story: “Site fidelity is a beautiful, romantic idea, but it’s also dangerous.” When an endangered species of birds return to their previous home year after year to attempt to mate despite the fact that it had been destroyed by a reservoir, “they didn’t move to other leks, didn’t find solid ground on the shore. The entire family just died out, pining for their land.” Digging one’s heels in despite the insurmountable challenges is a recurring theme in these stories, for the animals as well as for the humans. Colorado readers will recognize much of the landscape and background information throughout, but anyone who has loved the scenery they currently live or grew up in will feel the conflicts wrestled with throughout.
Check out “Site Fidelity” at your closest Denver Public Library location or as an ebook through denverlibrary.com.
Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.