Billy Parham, after freeing a she-wolf from his father's trap, returns home to find his parents murdered and must set out with his brother to recover their stolen horses. Billy Parham is a ruminative young man living with his parents and younger brother in southern Arizona. Ranchers, he and his father regularly set out to check the cattle, sometimes accompanied by his brother, Boyd. They soon find the tracks of a she-wolf, who is hunting their cattle. While attempting to trap the wolf, Billy and his father visit an old trapper, who gives them a home-brewed bait he refers to as a "matrix." Before the wolf is caught, Billy and Boyd, out checking traps, run into an Indian, who not-so-vaguely threatens the boys into bringing him some food. When Billy next checks the traps, alone, he finds the she-wolf and is possessed by the desire to free her, truly beginning the first arc of the novel. Billy sets off to Mexico, where the last of the wolves live up in the mountains. He slowly earns some modicum of the wolf's trust, feeding and watering her as best he can while they make their way deeper into the old territory. Before he is able to free her, however, he passes through a town where the authorities seize the wolf and detain Billy. They take the wolf to a sort of fair, where they intend to fight the wolf against their dogs. Billy makes his way to the ring and finds the wolf fighting for its life, and exhausted. Rather than see the wolf suffer, he gets a rifle and shoots her. He then wanders about the countryside, taking some time before he returns to America.
When he does arrive back home, Billy finds his house abandoned. His parents have been murdered, and Boyd has been taken in at the nearest town. Getting what few possessions they have together, along with their now-mute dog, the pair set out to recover their father's horses in Mexico. Along the way, Boyd falls in love with a girl on the road, who joins them, and the two take part in a daring and narrow recovery of some horses from a local hacendado. In the tumult Boyd is shot and gravely wounded. Rescued by some locals, Boyd is nursed back to health with the girl from the road. When he is well, the pair disappear, and Billy is left to himself. He returns to America, working ranches and wandering. Unable to enlist in the Army due to a heart murmur, he eventually crosses back into Mexico, where he seeks his brother. He finds that Boyd has become something of a legend, and was killed in a gunfight. Finding his bones, Billy sets out with them, crossing the border a final time. The book ends simply, with Billy alone, destitute, and embittered by the events that have transpired.
Best part of story, including ending:
The philosophical underpinnings to this story are rich, and powerful.
Best scene in story:
A blind man relates the story of his odyssean journey to Billy, culminating in how he came to be with his female caretaker, who witnessed the execution of most of the men in her town.
Opinion about the main character:
Billy is a young man of action early in the book, and this soon falls to the wayside as his brother, Boyd, begins to outshine him in conviction and deed. This struck me as a realistic and humbling portrayal of humanity.