Childhood friends Gordon Walker and Leigh Ransom plan to attend college together in the fall, but over the summer, unsettling events in the dying Colorado plains town of Lions ruin those plans. Businesses close and residents leave for a better life elsewhere. The derelict sugar beet factory and the rusted grain elevator prompt the few remaining residents to post a sign by the highway turnoff “living ghost town.”
The Walkers aren’t leaving, having lived in the town for many generations. John Walker has a first-class welding business, but he has never made any money. He’s been obsessed for decades by a mysterious errand, delivering supplies to a remote cabin once inhabited by a starving settler. After John’s funeral, son Gordon pulls away from Leigh as he eerily assumes John’s obligation to stock the cabin.
When a stranger comes to town and ends up drowned in the town’s water tower, this only adds to the gloomy legends and ghost stories of the past. At summer’s end, Leigh is ready to leave the hard, dusty town, but the transition to college is tragically unsuccessful for Gordon who is drawn back to Lions despite lack of prospects.
Bonnie Nadzam’s second novel, after the award-winning Lamb, is strong witness to the collapse of a town, what the ruins and piles of brick once represented, and the cost to the human spirit. She weaves in homesteader stories, legends from the past, ghosts of those long disappeared. The story of Lions will stay with us long after the town returns to the sparse grassland of its origins.