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When and if I get old, I hope to be as productive as Gerry Spence. He’s just published his first novel. This is his 11th book. All were written after the age of 50. “Half-Moon and Empty Stars” is set in Wyoming, among hardscrabble towns the tourists don’t see. The characters are rough hewn, but drawn deftly by Spence. Prejudice against and among Native Americans is intense, and death is in the air. A man is killed. The state seeks the death penalty. Will justice prevail? This is a lifelong preoccupation of Spence’s. And the second half of his life has revolved around his sense that, of all human forces, love is the most powerful. Not surprisingly, love is alive and at work in this novel — although where it leads is far from predictable. I had not planned to read this book. Earlier this year, I wrote a column for these pages breaking my affiliation with the Trial Lawyers College, an entity Spence founded, and distancing myself from Spence. I wrote the way I usually do, recklessly and with passion. Things I did not understand drew me to the man, and made me uncomfortable. Time to move on. Life is brief, and each of us must make our own mark before being swallowed whole by shadows. The column caused quite a stir. Perhaps the biggest stir was from Spence himself. Months passed, and a painful letter. I had hurt him, and he didn’t think it fair. Had he not opened himself to me, and offered his hand in friendship? Had he not, in fact, offered love? This betrayal, he wrote, was like the death of one he held dear, and whose abrupt departure scarred him. Shame colored me as I read. A sense of being pursued, suffocated. Why not leave me be? More letters follow, and we volley back and forth. A painful truth dawns; I struggle still to see it. Spence and I met in unusual circumstances. A dusty barn in Wyoming. He the teacher; I the student. The subject the task of telling stories. Our client’s stories. But to tell those stories, must we not learn first to tell our own? And how best to do that than re-enactment? Words often get in the way. My story unfolds. A story of hurt and a father’s desertion of his son. Feelings that mark me in ways I can scarcely discern. Spence plays the father in this drama. I am reunited for a time and given the gift of speech. I try to speak to the father I have not seen for a lifetime. He tries to speak back. As things grow quiet and he becomes energy electric, I see Spence’s eyes grow distant, and falter. Something in him moves, too. The father facing his betrayals. I am angered again by betrayal, and wish just once for the arms whose embrace I cannot recall. Another letter. Spence writes that he will forever be true, and that he is not a deserter. This time he will be there if I need him. It is an act of love given freely, and then given again in the face of rebuke and humiliation. Something in me is not big enough to accept it. I read “Half-Moon and Empty Stars” because I miss him. He is the first man whom I know well to have written books. The test in reading them is always the following: Is it him, has he been real? Once again, Spence does not disappoint. The plot may from time to time falter, and some characters speak more clearly than others. But in the end, the book is beautiful. It is about love, justice and imperfection. It took courage to write that book, as it takes courage to love as he does. Norm Pattis is a name partner at New Haven, Conn.’s Williams and Pattis.

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