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Grey's mother dies giving birth to his sister Irene and he prays that she will be returned to him so he might protect her from the world as his father did not. This prayer, Grey believes is answered in his sister Irene. He becomes obsessed with protecting her purity and innocence while befriending the wild boys of the small town of Mary Smokes — horse-handlers and fox hunters and part-time timber workers — members of a small, vanishing tribe who find themselves caught between an old relationship with place and a new one that is exemplified by the highway that threatens their town.
Holland's kinship with Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses is palpable. The Mary Smokes Boys is heart-rending and unforgettable, a suspenseful story of horse thieves and broken promises, of love and tragedy, of the fragility and grace of small town life and how one fateful moment can forever alter the course of our lives.