Book Review and Giveaway: The Big Empty by Loren Steffy | Lone Star Book Blog Tours

THE BIG EMPTY

by
LOREN C. STEFFY
Genre: Western / Rural Fiction / Small Town
Date of Publication: May 25, 2021
Number of Pages: 304 pages 
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When Trace Malloy and Blaine Witherspoon collide on a desolate West Texas highway, their fender bender sets the tone for escalating clashes that will determine the future of the town of Conquistador.
Malloy, a ranch manager and lifelong cowboy, knows that his occupation—and his community—are dying. He wants new- millennium opportunities for his son, even though he himself failed to summon the courage to leave familiar touchstones behind.
Witherspoon, an ambitious, Lexus-driving techie, offers a solution. He moves to Conquistador to build and run a state-of-the-art semiconductor plant that will bring prestige and high-paying technology jobs to revive the town—and advance his own career.
What neither man anticipates is the power the “Big Empty” will wield over their plans. The flat, endless expanse of dusty plain is as much a character in the conflict as are the locals struggling to subsist in this timeworn backwater and the high-tech transplants hell-bent on conquering it. While Malloy grapples with the flaws of his ancestors and his growing ambivalence toward the chip plant, Witherspoon falls prey to construction snafus, corporate backstabbing, and financial fraud. As they each confront personal fears, they find themselves united in the search for their own version of purpose in a uniquely untamable Texas landscape.
PRAISE FOR THE BIG EMPTY:
“The Big Empty” captures a moment when Big Tech seemingly promised everything. By turns funny and painful, Steffy’s story builds like an accelerating freight train, reaching a fast-paced climax.”
The Epoch Times
“Like the titular land itself, Steffy’s novel is uncompromising in spotlighting the strains that the drive toward material achievement puts on the individual in the face of nature’s whims.”
Southern Review of Books
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Stoney Creek Publishing Group(Currently 25% off)
The Big Empty is a story of a clash of cultures. The present that’s rapidly becoming the past colliding with the seemingly incompatible future.

Life in the town of Conquistador is really all that Trace Malloy has ever known. He’s a ranch manager and a cowboy, and with the exception of a short stint trying unsuccessfully to break away from his hometown, he’s been in Conquistador all of his life. He realizes that ranching and the cowboy life are likely not viable options for the long term, and he wants to see his son Colt take advantage of other opportunities. Colt, unable to pursue his dream of flying in the Air Force due to the lingering damage from broken legs, stubbornly persists in saying he’s going to follow in his father’s footsteps right there in Conquistador.

But the future is on its way to Conquistador. AZTech, lured by the promise of tax breaks and accommodations, is building a computer chip manufacturing facility in the middle of the wide-open, dusty spaces. Blaine Witherspoon is heading up the project, seeing it as his ticket to bigger and better things in bigger and better places.

Past and present literally collide when Trace’s pickup and Blaine’s moving truck try to occupy the same piece of road at the same time. This doesn’t bode well for their future interactions. Blaine sees Trace as a backwards yokel who needs to join the twenty-first century, and Trace sees Blaine as someone with no frame of reference for his new environment, someone who wants to come in and change things to suit the needs of his new facility without giving any thought to how those changes will impact the people in Conquistador, their livelihoods, their very ability to survive.

Blaine wants to get the factory up and running and meeting production goals on time and under budget. Trace wants to protect the town’s scarce resources and see them managed so that the needs of both town and factory can be met. They both realize that something has to give, and they make grudging efforts to find some common ground. Some of those efforts are comical – Trace inviting Blaine, his high-maintenance wife who’d rather be anywhere but West Texas, and his emo son with a drug habit to a barbecue at the ranch, for instance. The Witherspoons thoughtfully bring their own food to accommodate their vegetarian eating habits, and the Conquistador folks are a bit befuddled as to why anyone would make a burger patty out of vegetables when there are perfectly good burgers made of beef to be had. Some of those efforts hurt – Blaine invites Trace to tour the chip factory, and it becomes a literal pain for Trace as he struggles to navigate the sterile, unfamiliar environment. But they’re trying. Can they find enough common ground for the factory to succeed and bring prosperity to Conquistador?

Blaine and Trace are both well written characters. Blaine was at first a thoroughly unlikable character. He just came in wanting to do things how they were done back in California without thinking that hey, we aren’t in California anymore, maybe we need to rethink this. As the story unfolded, though, I started to feel a little bit sorry for him. He didn’t know what he was getting himself into, and he was so accustomed to doing things a certain way that it was difficult if not impossible for him to shift gears. His efforts to achieve a task that seemed to become more impossible each day were almost uncomfortable to watch. Trace was more likable, but I felt sorry for him, too. He struggled to maintain his way of life, and struggled to teach the newcomer how to adapt to West Texas. He ached for what he saw as his son throwing away a better future than what the cowboy life offered. He wrestled with guilt at not spending enough time with his mother, who was declining due to dementia. Both men have to find ways to adapt to new and different things.

I’ve never been to West Texas, but Steffy’s writing lets me envision the never-ending expanse of flat, dusty land that has its own harsh beauty. The setting here is more than just the physical space that the characters occupy. It takes on a life of its own. The dust isn’t mindful of how clean the chip factory needs to be; it just goes where it goes. When one of the new electrical lines run out to the factory collapses and sparks a wildfire, the fire threatens the town and the new facility alike. The immensity of the Big Empty is harsh to old-timer and newcomer alike, and environmentalism takes on a whole different meaning there.

This didn’t read like a debut novel. It was well written and well worth the time I invested reading it. Five stars, and I hope to read more from Steffy in the future.

Loren C. Steffy is the author of five nonfiction books. He is a writer at large for Texas Monthly, and his work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. He has previously worked for news organizations including Bloomberg and the Houston Chronicle, and he is a managing director for 30 Point Strategies, where he leads the 30 Point Press publishing imprint. His is a frequent guest on radio and television programs and is the co-host of the Rational Middle podcast. The Big Empty is his first novel. Steffy holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M University. He lives in Wimberley, Texas, with his wife, three dogs and an ungrateful cat.
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1 Response to Book Review and Giveaway: The Big Empty by Loren Steffy | Lone Star Book Blog Tours

  1. What a great review! I love when the setting of a book becomes a character in itself — and is so richly described that you feel you are part of it. Thanks for sharing!

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