On How the West Was Won
As the sole Westerner on the Book World staff, I feel geographically obligated to highlight some of my favorite novels about the settling of the West. These aren't triumphalist, manifest-destiny books, but fiction that grapples with what it feels like to go out into a fierce, unfamiliar land. Are there books that have made you want to yoke up the oxen and head for the Oregon trail -- or made you thankful that the frontier has long since closed?
1. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy (1985)
This book, about bounty hunters massacring Indians along the Texas-Mexico border, could just as easily have gone on Ron's list of scary books. I read it over a decade ago and still cannot get out of my mind the scene of Comanches rising up out of a herd of cattle, dressed in blood-stained wedding veils and the uniforms of slain soldiers, to slaughter (somewhat justifiably) a group of filibusters.
2. A Sudden Country, by Karen Fisher (2005)
A dream-like account of a woman reluctantly emigrating with her family to Oregon. As she tries to protect her children from the various hazards on the trail, she embarks on a nearly wordless affair with the trapper who is guiding the wagon train. This is Fisher's first novel and was inspired by her family's own emigrant story. Her style reminds me very much of Michael Ondaatje, especially in "The English Patient."
3. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner (1971)
A reader responding to Marie's list of books about troubled marriages suggested "Angle of Repose." The book certainly qualifies. A wheel-chair bound historian researches his grandparents' lives: The grandfather was a pioneering mining engineer, the grandmother a cultured artist who felt unmoored in the West. They had a certain uneasiness with each other, and with what they represented of new and old America.
4. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry (1985)
What could be more exciting than a cattle drive from Texas to Montana? Especially one with river snakes, psychopathic outlaws, whores and a friendship that is mysterious to everyone outside of it. While there's a certain amount of Western mythologizing going on here, the book is nearly impossible to put down.
5. The Ox-Bow Incident, by Walter van Tilburg Clark (1940)
I would be no kind of native-Nevadan at all if I didn't mention this classic, written by a man who spent his childhood as well as his later years in the great Silver State. "The Ox-Bow Incident" has some of the archetypal elements of a traditional western -- cattle rustlers, a posse -- but it's really a morality tale about the dangers of a group taking the law into its own hands.
-- Rachel Shea
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Missicat | October 18, 2007 8:56 AM
Posted by: Bill | October 18, 2007 11:07 AM
Posted by: Bill | October 18, 2007 3:25 PM
Posted by: Rachel Shea | October 18, 2007 5:45 PM
Posted by: Sharon | October 20, 2007 8:20 PM
Posted by: Rachel Shea | October 22, 2007 12:25 PM
Posted by: Marcy | October 22, 2007 1:25 PM
Posted by: Rachel Shea | October 23, 2007 1:49 PM
Posted by: LouisBranning | October 31, 2007 1:59 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.