The Desert Sky Before Us: A Novel (Paperback)
"The Desert Sky Before Us is a marvel. A vital, profound story of the aftermath of loss, and of the terrors and illuminations of love." —R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
From award-winning author Anne Valente comes this poignant and unforgettable literary novel of two estranged sisters—one, a former racecar driver and the other a recently-released prisoner—who embark on a road trip together to complete the scavenger hunt their mother designed for them before her death.
When Billie is released from a correctional facility in Decatur, her sister Rhiannon is there to meet her, even though the two haven’t seen each other in months. Painful secrets and numerous unspoken betrayals linger between them—but most agonizing is the sudden passing of their mother, a renowned paleontologist.
Rhiannon and Billie must overcome their differences as they set off on a road trip west, following the breadcrumb-trail of their late mother’s scavenger hunt, a sort of second funeral she planned in her final days. The sisters know the trail will end in Utah at the famous Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry, where their mother spent her career researching dinosaur fossils. But the seemingly endless days on the road soon take their toll, forcing Rhiannon and Billie to confront their hostilities and revisit old memories—both good and bad.
As they travel across the heart of America, and as a series of plane crashes in the news make their journey all the more urgent, the two sisters begin to rediscover each other and to uncover their late mother’s veiled second life, taking them on an unexpected emotional journey inward—and forcing them to come to terms with their own choices in life.
About the Author
Anne Valente’s first short-story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, won the Dzanc Books Short Story Prize. Her fiction appears in One Story, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and the Chicago Tribune, and her essays appear in The Believer and the Washington Post. Originally from St. Louis, she teaches creative writing and literature at Hamilton College.
“The Desert Sky Before Us is a marvel. A vital, profound story of the aftermath of loss, and of the terrors and illuminations of love.”
— R.O. Kwon, bestselling author of The Incendiaries
“The Desert Sky Before Us... is a rich, ambitious novel, and Anne Valente is a dazzling talent.”
— Clare Beams, author of We Show What We Have Learned
“This is a big-hearted novel.... The Desert Sky Before Us is a wonderful book—surprising, lyric, and utterly compelling.”
— Tessa Fontaine, author of The Electric Woman
“The Desert Sky Before Us is a marvel... [Billie and Rhiannon’s] once-in-a-lifetime journey together stayed with me long after I turned the last page of this captivating book.”
— Mia Alvar, author of In the Country
“Valente’s superb writing propels us on a most unusual journey filled with unraveling emotions and the breathtaking mysteries of desert river beds, red rock formations, and dinosaur skeletons. Impossible to put down.”
— Booklist (starred review)
Praise for Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down: “Valente’s beautiful, elegiac novel about a community in mourning, and the unseen forces that unravel and consume us after a tragedy, is a work of heartbreaking timeliness.”
— J. Ryan Stradal, New York Times bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest
“Haunting...Written in the collective voice...à la Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, Valente artfully employs...newspaper articles, and biographies of teh victims on the way to an unforgettable ending, with fire serving as a powerfully fitting metaphor for grief, loss...and the nature of fate.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down is a beautifully written, lyrical book wrapped up in a compelling mystery with shades of Stephen King. Gripping and profound, a terrific debut.”
— Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat
“Valente is a sorceress...This is a gorgeous book full of mysteries. It scorches with truth, and sings with hope. Valente writes like all of our lives depend on it.”
— Diane Cook, author of Man V. Nature
“Pulsing, eerie, and impossible to put down...In a cultural moment in which mass violence is shockingly prevalent, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down is that rare gift; a book that is as resonant as it is surprising, as timely as it is soulful.”
— Chloe Benjamin, author of The Anatomy of Dreams
“One of the most compelling novles I’ve read in years.”
— Matt Bell, author of Scrapper
“Lyrical, mysterious, and structurally innovative...This is a book we need now more than ever.”
— Kelly Luce, author of Pull Me Under
“Gripping, visceral...I couldn’t stop reading--or caring about these characters...There’s a tinge of mythic eeriness to this story...but it was the resilient, appealing characters who propelled me through this intense novel, and lingered long after its close.”
— Sharon Guskin, author of The Forgetting Time
“Breathtaking...Riveting characters...This reader found herself increasingly spellbound by this remarkable and urgent debut novel.”
— Laura van den Berg, author of Find Me