Crossing Purgatory

“Set against the backdrop of the Great Plains during the years just preceding the Civil War, Crossing Purgatory deals with questions of unprincipled ambition, guilt, and the price one man is willing to pay for atonement. Beautifully scripted, spare and powerful, this is a story of relationships, of human frailties, and, ultimately, of redemption.

Awards for Crossing Purgatory:

2013 Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction

2014 Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Traditional Novel.


“The Purgatory (or Purgatoire) is a river in southern Colorado. The river and the title serve as a metaphor for the odyssey of Thompson Grey, a young Indiana farmer whose efforts to overcome his personal purgatory form the core of this beautifully written novel…Schanbacher is a gifted writer whose prose is always elegant, whether describing the land, a winter storm, or the inner life of his characters. This is an intense and emotionally stirring saga.”

—Booklist, starred review.

“Crossing Purgatory is a beautiful, lyrical experience memorable for its timeless evocation of human struggle at the fringes of civilization.  There is something mythic in the language, capturing the vast emptiness and ever-looming danger of the American West 150 years ago. Schanbacher effortlessly channels history while exploring conflicts of the heart that ring just as true today.”

—William Haywood Henderson, author of Augusta Locke.

“This striking tale, a literary western from Schanbacher (Migration Patterns), chronicles one momentous year in the life of a plainsman on the eve of the American Civil War…[a] visceral and triumphant saga of the Old West.”

—Publishers Weekly