Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Morning Reading: Jane Ciabattari

Just noticed this: on Bookforum's webpage, Jane Ciabattari's article, "Writing the West." She profiles five authors, five novels: Oakley Hall (Warlock, of course.), Dashiell Hammet (Pinkertons! Butte, Montana!), Jim Harrison, Richard Ford and Annie Proulx.

The sparsely populated mile-high plains, bowl-shaped valleys, and jagged mountain ranges of Wyoming, Montana, and other western states inspire a particular literary shape and substance. A robust and increasingly influential literature of the West, with its own set of icons—Bret Harte, Walter van Tilburg Clark, Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner—has evolved over the past century and a half.

Owen Wister’s The Virginian set the mold for the western cowboy hero (although Wister called his book a “colonial romance,” noting that “Wyoming between 1874 and 1890 was a colony as wild as was Virginia one hundred years earlier”). By the time The Virginian was published, in 1902, the type of hero Wister termed the “horseman of the plains” was extinct, and many of the legendary mining centers of the post–Civil War era were ghost towns. But the habit of romanticizing the cowboy and the vigilante style of “frontier justice” endured. The stories told in the five books below arise from this bitterly inhospitable, starkly beautiful landscape. The authors are a rugged corps of iconoclasts, trailblazers in their own right.

For the rest, click here.

Photograph: Devils Tower, Wyoming -by Bradley Davis)

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