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Reviews for "Patch of Dirt"

Publication date is May 6th, 2016. The book launch will be at the Wacammaw Library

in Pawleys Island Saturday May 21st from 9:30-10:30am.

For the latest updates please check



Joe Oliver is a weather-beaten, thirty-something cowboy in Montana, out looking for work, when he stumbles on a strange deal involving a sixty-something ex-Vietnam vet and his much younger wife.

It turns out that the task at hand is more than the usual ranching job. Rita and Frank are looking for someone to be the biological father for their child and Joe seems the perfect candidate for the job - until Rita falls in love with him.

A nasty triangle of complexity evolves, placing Joe in the much more dangerous position of having to solidify his feelings and make some difficult choices. What began as another ranch job has just turned into something far more complicated than anyone could have predicted.

Patch of Dirt is about ordinary people facing bad weather, bad ideas, and poor outcomes. It adds many elements to the Western theme that are satisfyingly unexpected as it probes the emotions and motivations of three very different characters, and it tells of a loner who has eschewed close connections until Rita enters his life. And even then, for him, circumstances are not cut and dried nor filled with sudden love, but foster a slow simmering of ambivalence.

As Rita snoops through Joe's soul and confronts her own mixed emotions, the characters uncover consequences from their actions and choices ("She knew Joe was breaking into pieces she couldn’t mend. She hadn’t meant for that to happen."). Joe and Rita find themselves in discussions and situations that lead each to question their lives and decisions.

That's one of the many strengths of Patch of Dirt, which takes many matters of the heart (from spirituality to sex and interpersonal connections) and closely examines them all.

Richard Lutman's attention to probing the separate psyches of Frank, Rita and Joe ("Even after marrying Rita he still felt a growing loneliness and fear. At sixty-five his life was nearly over. The last of his line, he wanted to finally be called Dad and maybe even Grandfather.") creates a powerful result when these individual examinations come together in an explosive reaction. As each protagonist probes their past and their interrelationships, the central theme of the story blossoms until each separate figure's struggles and regrets becomes driving forces in their choices for their future.

Readers anticipating a one-dimensional or shallow Western adventure will find Patch of Dirt something far more complex, showing how three very different people share their lives, come together, and depart. It's a powerful story that transcends the usual limits and perceptions of the Western romance, and will delight and surprise readers who seek something more than light action or casual romantic interplays.

D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review



A Patch of Dirt by Richard Lutman

In Richard Lutman’s gritty western romance, A Patch of Dirt, we are thrown into the world of 30-year-old Joe Oliver, an alcoholic womanizer drifting across the Montana wastes from one ranch job to another, from one bar brawl to another, and from one loose dame to another. After a failed relationship leaves Joe heartbroken, the only break in the monotony of his life comes when Frank Hill, a wounded sixty-something Vietnam veteran, offers Joe an unusual job as a hand on his ranch. Both parties have unexpressed, ulterior motives and Joe quickly learns that there is more to Frank and his young bombshell wife Rita than first meets the eye. His continued involvement with the couple will test the wills, hearts, and charted life courses for all involved.

Lutman styles his novel as an update on the classic hard-boiled western, lading it with old-fashioned machismo, bravado, and gender dynamics, while presenting the male fantasy of a deeply flawed yet irresistible man who can get any woman he desires. Lutman casts these tropes and archetypes in a rugged grey light that brings the imperfections of Joe’s world into harsh relief. It is a raw Americana romance – tapping into the heady literary resonance of booze, sex, and blue-collar emotional violence – where the action passes by in flurries of slaps, whiskey shots, love making, cigarettes, and rusted tractors. While “A Patch of Dirt” may present us with somewhat contrived romantic dynamics that seem simply to occur rather than to grow and develop, they are nonetheless both compelling and believable, conveyed more emotionally than logically by the sum of Lutman’s detailed scenes. The backdrops of the beautiful, desolate landscapes of a cold backwoods American West successfully infuse the narrative with a brooding, brutal, and melancholy atmosphere, and the entire world is painted with rich and evocative strokes of scenery and feeling. With descriptions full of intoxicating clichés, Lutman spins a tale whose comfortably familiar elements and inviting richness belie the vulgarity and cruelty of the narrative with thrilling counterpoint, adding complexity to the facile generic elements and sugar-coating the bitter pill of the often-bleak story. To convey this chronicle, Lutman opts for a narrative style that verges seamlessly into a stream-of-consciousness exploration the different characters’ perspectives, thoughts, and memories, sculpting a fluidly dynamic and textured romance. The result is a breezy and well-composed read, although the pacing can sometimes feel weird and uneven – the action doesn’t seem to rise and fall over time in a classic arc so much as it jumps up and down in quick bursts. Reading the novel can be like driving rapidly over speedbumps: uncomfortable and a bit challenging, but wild, exciting, and deeply connected to a certain savage abandon that is simultaneously linked to both a zest and disregard for the gravity of life. Although the novel ends with a few confusing moral messages, it is at its core a noble melodrama and a passionate tale of missed opportunities and second chances, as well as a moving meditation on the powers and shortcomings of love. Rigorously well-written, profoundly imagined, A Patch of Dirt has – beneath its chilly and bristling exterior – a warm, tender, beating heart.


FOUR STARS Joe Oliver is a sad example of a man who grew up with no real plan for his life. In Patch of Dirt by Richard Lutman, Joe comes to realize that something has to change with the way he lives his life or there will never be an opportunity for him to find that little patch of dirt on which he can make a claim and start a small farm. Meeting women in seedy bars, getting drunk and having sex is all he knows ... until he meets Anna. Unfortunately, emotional commitment is not something Anna is ready for. Joe continues his lonely existence as he searches for the man who inherited what little Joe’s mother may have left behind. Finding Frank Hill’s farm only adds more trouble to Joe’s life when he becomes wrapped up in a strange plan Frank and his wife Rita have involving their hired hands. Will Joe ever realize that there is more to life than getting beaten up by jealous husbands and thugs? As a thoughtful study of a despondent class of people, Patch of Dirt by Richard Lutman really delivers. Each of the characters is well developed, but has nothing going for them as they suffer through whatever life has dealt them. From self-righteous townsfolk to the thugs who support the local club owner with his need to control, all the people interact from a position of distrust, fear and anger. Lutman provides a sad commentary about lives wasted in the bottle and with unfulfilled love where emotions never make a connection.

Reviewed By Melinda Hills

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