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‘Legend’ a gentle look at life, death

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THE LEGEND OF COLTON H. BRYANT, by Alexandra Fuller, The Penguin Press, 205 pages, $23.95

Alexandra Fuller is British by way of southern Africa and finally to Wyoming, where she started to worry about the energy boom and the oil rigs that dumped so many young men to their death.

When 25-year-old Colton H. Bryant, born in Utah, fell from a rig south of Pinedale, 30 feet to his death in 2006, she couldn't get it out of her mind.

Bryant was the fourth rig hand in 18 months to die at an Ultra Petroleum well site in the Upper Green River Valley. Research convinced Fuller that Bryant had lost his life because of negligence, specifically, the absence of safety rails.

She interviewed his family and friends, developing a very personal interest in a young man she had never known. Then she wrote a new kind of "western with a full cast of gun-toting boy-heroes from the outskirts of town and city-shoddy villains from head office."

While she intended the story to be non-fiction, she admitted that she took some liberties, emphasizing some elements of Bryant's life and leaving out others. She also "re-created dialogue" and "juggled time to create a smoother story line."

Utilizing a precious writing gift, Fuller elegantly tells what many would see as Bryant's ordinary, short life and makes it compelling. She tells anecdotes she learned from family in order to illustrate the color in his life.

For instance, she writes about how Bryant gathered some friends, piled into "a blue Ford Escort and drove out of town with halter ropes and head collars and .22s and fishing rods" to check out "the Hagsback" for Cocoa, a missing desert-colored horse. They don't find the horse, but Bryant hits the emergency brake and suddenly jumps out of the car to run after some antelope who quickly out-run him.

Fuller writes, "The antelope are long gone over the next ridge. The vastness of it all is dazzling and slow, there's no way of catching up with them or of covering a space this endless so that if you were paying that kind of attention, this would be a heartbreaking world."

On the way back, Bryant tells his friend, Jake, that he has "two ambitions left in this life" ... Number one is, I've gotta find me a good woman." Silence. When Jake asks what number two is, he says "Other one what?" Jake says, "Other ambition." "Oh," Bryant says, "Holy cow, I forget now."

The chapters are many but short, the dialogue and description is spare but authentic, and Fuller conveys not only the simple but important life of this young man but illustrates the immense space of Wyoming landscape that envelops him.

This is a gentle, understated book that effectively muckrakes at the same time it portrays a living and dying symbol of the oil rigs.

E-mail: dennis@desnews.com