Trent Preszler’s memoir, Little and Often, opens with a phone call. It’s from his dad, Leon, from whom Trent has been estranged for years, inviting him to come home to South Dakota for Thanksgiving. At 37, Trent is at a high point professionally. He’s the CEO of a Long Island vineyard, he mingles with celebrities and his house has an idyllic view of Peconic Bay. But his personal life tells a different story: Divorced after a brief marriage, he’s working too much, drinking too much and has distanced himself from his friends.
As Trent makes the long drive home, he contemplates his years growing up in flyover country. His parents eked out a marginal existence raising cattle on a South Dakota ranch, 145 miles from the nearest McDonald’s. Leon was always the strong one, a former rodeo champion whose favorite book of the Bible was Job. Long ago, Leon made it clear that he didn’t accept Trent’s sexuality as a gay man—but during this visit, Leon surprises Trent by asking about his ex. Not long after this, Leon dies from cancer, and Trent loses his chance to reconnect.
Leon has left Trent two items, his toolbox and a taxidermied duck. As he ponders his dad’s tools, Trent makes an odd decision: He will build a canoe. The remainder of the memoir details Trent’s quixotic project as he teaches himself about different kinds of wood, power-tool skills and the patience to fail and try again. “Little and often makes much,” he remembers his dad saying, coaching teenage Trent through a difficult project. Throughout the book, the narrative returns to such father-son episodes, evoking ranch life with its biblical weather, rattlesnakes, long horseback rides, cattle auctions and rodeos.
The writing in Little and Often is lucid and sometimes lyrical, building on unexpected connections, such as the geological links between South Dakota and Long Island. As the narrative walks the reader through the process of hand-building a canoe, we see Trent reconsidering his parents’ lives and his own, and finding calm and trust in himself.