Reading Suggestions (for “Not-to-Be-Missed Contemporary Fiction of the American West,” 1990-2000)

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Reading Suggestions (for “Not-to-Be-Missed Contemporary Fiction of the American West,” 1990-2000)

Friday, November 19th, 2010

During the year 2000, Western American Literature asked readers to nominate a notable novel published since 1990. This list of “not-to-be-missed works of contemporary fiction of the American West” was a chance for all readers to recognize and applaud recent novels in the field. Rather than thinking only in terms of absolutes—a kind of “Best West” list—we asked readers to nominate books they think might be the subject of future scholarship in the field, as well as books notable enough to recommend to colleagues looking for the right contemporary novel to add to a syllabus or to offer to a friend just looking for a “good read.” The results are listed below, arranged alphabetically by the novelist’s last name. The response to the call for nominations was not overwhelming, but the modest list that did result was interesting nevertheless. Happy reading!

—Evelyn I. Funda, Utah State University, Logan

Strange Angels. By Jonis Agee. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993. $12.00.

Agee is the most prolific of the recent Great Plains novelists that includes Kent Haruf, Dan O’Brien, Douglas Unger, Ron Hansen, and, in Canada, Sharon Butala, but while these latter writers, with the exception of Butala, have produced one or two fine fictional treatments of the region, Agee produces stories and novels at a steady clip. Recently, she joined the faculty in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, where, we can hope, she will continue to focus her fictional attention on the people who populate the small towns and rural reaches of the Great Plains.

Strange Angels is set in the Nebraska Sandhills made familiar by Mari Sandoz, and like Sandoz’s family in Old Jules, the children in Agee’s Bennet family must come to terms with their father’s legacy, left to each in equal measure. Agee creates characters who see themselves as losers and throw-aways while revealing strengths and sympathies the reader comes to admire. The Bennet children’s lives are intricately connected with each other, with the other complex and colorful characters in their ranching community, and with the land that, as in any good western work, is an important character in her novel.
—Diane Quantic, Wichita State University

The Temptations of St. Ed & Brother S. By Frank Bergon. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1993. $22.00.

Frank Bergon knows his Nevada, and the characters and issues so sharply defined in this novel will resonate with Westerners especially. The battle for the book’s fictional Shoshone Mountain, the site of a proposed nuclear waste dump, becomes a reflection of the battle going on in the souls of the modern monks St. Ed and Brother S in their struggles with the temptations of this world. Backed by an assortment of Native American activists, Desert Rats, a BLM ranger, and drop-out kids, the monks find themselves up against talk-show hosts, technicians, and the cool and scary bureaucrats of the Department of Energy, with their vacant materialism, loveless view of sexuality, and destructive ideas of power. The outcome is inconclusive, but the book holds out the possibility of other kinds of power and knowledge, which are represented not by the nuclear clouds of the technocrats but by the mystics’ Cloud of Unknowing and the ancient energy of the sun. This is a comic novel in the great tradition.
—Zeese Papanikolas, San Francisco Art Institute

Wild Game. By Frank Bergon. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1995. $22.00.

Frank Bergon is a writer intensely concerned with the contemporary West, and in particular with Nevada, and in Wild Game he weaves together a number of issues that help describe the modern western condition.

Based loosely upon the story of Claude Dallas, Wild Game follows the pursuit of a modern-day, self-fashioned mountain man by an all-too-human, all-too-male Nevada state wildlife biologist, Jack Iragaray. Iragaray is a man powerfully shaped by certain masculine myths and mythologies of the West, as well as by his own Basque heritage. Bergon brings these several forces to bear upon his character and upon his greater narrative; as he does so, he interrogates the very western history which has, in many ways, produced both the pursued and the pursuer in his novel. Writing in a realistic mode, Bergon manages to comment insightfully upon both the past and the present; he also points to ways in which some of the contemporary dilemmas facing the American West might be approached, if not solved.

—Gregory L. Morris, Penn State Erie, Behrend College

When We Were Wolves. By Jon Billman. New York: Random, 1999. $21.95.

Jon Billman’s debut collection, When We Were Wolves, features stories set exclusively in the contemporary West, mostly Wyoming and South Dakota. The book received immediate praise from Pulitzer prize winners Annie Proulx and Larry McMurtry, and also from Rick Bass. McMurtry later used one of Billman’s stories in his new anthology of western stories, Still Wild (2000). Billman, who calls Wyoming home, covers a broad range of western issues in his various stories: dustbowl-era baseball, fighting forest fires, crop dusting, religious conflicts with the Mormon church, and history—from George Custer and Jim Bridger to present-day politics. The stories are witty and, at turns, heart-breaking.
—Twister Marquiss, Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. By Sandra Cisneros. New York: Vintage, 1991. $11.00.

Sandra Cisneros’s is a richly textured exploration about sustaining identity in the American West. You get a diversity of voices here—male, female, contemporary, and historical. The stories weave myth, history, language, and popular culture to acknowledge the complexity and the beauty of western American and Mexican American experience.
—Gioia Woods, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff

The Blossom Festival. By Lawrence Coates. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1999. $20.00.

Lawrence Coates, who teaches at Southern Utah University, was chosen as a Great New Writer by Barnes & Noble, and the novel—Lawrence’s first— was in its third printing by mid-December of 1999. It was chosen as a book of the year by the Southern California Booksellers Association, as the leading fiction by a Utah writer for 1999, and has won a prestigious WESTAF award. I am daring to nominate a book that I acquired for our press not only because it meets your criteria so well, but because it was very hard for me to get it published, and I am delighted that this first book by a very promising author has been so well received. It’s at the top of my “good read” list of recommendations, and I have bought copies for a number of my friends.

The Blossom Festival is a richly panoramic chronicle of rural life in the Santa Clara Valley during the decades before World War II. Against the lush backdrop of literally millions of fruit trees unfold the personal dramas of a fascinating cast of characters.

Young Harold Madison, taking a page from his own father’s book, seduces and abandons Betsy Moreberg, whose tyrannical father, a successful home builder, packs her off to bear her illegitimate child at a distance. The boy, Peter, returns when his mother agrees to marry Steen Denisen, an ambitious immigrant who wants Betsy’s father’s business as well as Betsy. Steen seeks nothing better than to bulldoze thousands of fruit trees to make way for new homes as little San Natoma becomes a bedroom community for San Jose, and the land-rich father of Olivia and Albin Roberts must sell prime orchards to keep his family afloat during the depression.

As Peter struggles with his harsh stepfather, he becomes fascinated with Olivia, who has always wanted to star in the annual Blossom Festival, the traditional spring pageant that heralds the new growing season. Olivia has befriended Fumiko Yamamoto, the nisei daughter of Japanese fruit growers, and they make grand plans for their lives following high school graduation. The rancorous politics of race and the palpable presence of the overseas war conspire to mar the Blossom Festival of 1940, however, and the friends will scatter, Fumiko’s family to a Japanese relocation camp.
The Blossom Festival is an honest rendering of the complex relationships between parents and children in the changing context of a rich region of California that is leaving behind its agricultural past to become Silicon Valley.
—Trudy McMurrin, Acquiring Editor, University of Nevada Press, Las Vegas

Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. By Ivan Doig. New York: Atheneum, 1990. $14.00.

The third in Ivan Doig’s series of Montana novels about the McCaskill family, Ride with Me, Mariah Montana takes place during Montana’s centennial year, 1989. Sixty-five-year-old Jick McCaskill tells about his travels throughout Montana as “chaperon” to his grown daughter, Mariah, and her ex-husband, Riley Wright. The young divorced journalists both work for the same Missoula newspaper, he as a reporter, she as a photographer; and their editor has told them to drive around Montana to find subjects suitable for the paper’s series on the state’s centennial. Using this picaresque set-up gives Doig the chance to touch on dozens of subjects that show how Montana’s past has shaped its present. Ride with Me (which Doig dedicated to Wallace Stegner) mirrors Stegner’s Angle of Repose, since both novels show how the past provides benchmarks that allow us to gauge how well we’re weathering the pervasive changes that, with all the force of a Montana blizzard, batter our cultural and moral moorings. Moreover, the ending of Ride with Me illustrates Doig’s belief that Westerners can find ways to save the land they love. He builds effectively on the West’s literary tradition while also pointing the way to a postfrontier future.
—James H. Maguire, Boise State University

The Meadow. By James Galvin. New York: Henry Holt, 1992. $12.00.

The paperback edition of James Galvin’s The Meadow carries a quote from Bill Kittredge on its cover: “A masterpiece. The Meadow is one of the best books ever written about the American West.” I agree wholeheartedly. Told through shifting perspectives and points of view, Galvin’s novel tells of a single western landscape and of the generations who worked to make this inhospitable environment into a home. “Who does the meadow belong to?” one character wonders. “No one owns it, no one ever will,” is the authorial reply. With his own voice and a complex of others, Galvin examines the profound dilemma of western settlement, where the land has always been a presence more powerful than the men and women seeking to tame it. Even as he addresses significant issues of land use and of human interaction, Galvin does so with compelling characterizations and with a poetic prose that evokes a keenly imagined setting and scene. The Meadow is indeed a masterpiece. It reads well; it teaches well; it has that indefinable quality that brings a reader back to a text again and again. In my opinion, The Meadow should top any list of contemporary western fiction.
—Ann Ronald, University of Nevada, Reno

Plainsong. By Kent Haruf. New York: Knopf, 1999. $24.00.

I am nominating Plainsong, an extraordinary novel. It falls within the tradition of American regional fiction, set in an absolutely authentic high plains town in eastern Colorado. The stories of the seven main characters weave together and reveal the soul of a community, in a language that is spare and lovely. Plainsong is a fully realized work of art.
—Lawrence Coates, Southern Utah University, Cedar City
[Note: Plainsong was also suggested by George F. Day and Susan J. Rosowski.]

Remember Me. By Laura Hendrie. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. $24.00.

Wallace Stegner rejected western myths about romantic loners on a boundless frontier and perceived survival as dependent not on self-reliance but on the cooperation of neighbors. Laura Hendrie’s first novel, set in the tiny town of Queduro in northern New Mexico, where she lives, not only affirms Stegner’s thesis but also takes aim against a contemporary national malaise, the inability to become attached to anything. In a story that pits an individual against society, she wisely leaves room for the embroidery of belonging, identity, and love. Her voice is tough and tender, skeptical and cheerful.
Rose Devonic, a twenty-nine-year-old outcast, struggles to win respect from lifelong neighbors who have treated her with brutal indifference. Having lost home and family, she lives in an abandoned motel or out of her car, but she, like most others in Queduro, earns a living selling traditional embroidery and is thus an insider, not easily put down. “When it comes to love,” she says, “most people don’t even want to see the real thing.” She is determined to face such people down and the ghosts of the past that have alienated them. Authentically western, Remember Me acknowledges the possibility of alienation—and says to hell with it.

Hendrie’s story collection Stygo won the Rosenthal Foundation Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Mountain and Plains Regional Booksellers’ Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.
—Alexander Blackburn, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Liar’s Moon: A Long Story. By Philip Kimball. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. $23.00.

I want to nominate Philip Kimball, a little-known Kansas-based writer of rare power and talent, whose Liar’s Moon: A Long Story is a grand and mythic story of the settling of Kansas during and after the Civil War, when former slaves, cattle drovers, immigrating farmers, and Indians came together in a complex swirl up and down the Great Plains. The action takes place from about 1852 to 1890 when Wounded Knee marked the subduing of the West. Kids falling off the wagon being raised by coyotes, white children being captured and adopted by Indians, Buffalo Bill recruiting cowboys, Indians, and adventurers to be part of his wild west show, politics, and, oh yes, the loss of innocence—this novel has it all. It is an original tall tale pieced together from folklore and history, a wonderfully entertaining fiction. His first novel, published in 1984, Harvesting Ballads, is actually the second book in his planned trilogy about the Great Plains, Liar’s Moon being the first.
—Theodore C. Humphrey, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Green Grass, Running Water. By Tom King. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. $21.95/ New York: Bantam, 1994. $11.95.

Green Grass, Running Water by Cherokee author Thomas King is a comic, postmodern novel that satirizes sacred texts of the dominant North American culture from the Bible to the Lone Ranger from an indigenous point of view. It is also a story about identity, representation, exploitation of natural resources, heroes, heroines, and scapegoats using wordplay and a trickster’s sense of language. Coyote and four old Indians from the indigenous, oral tradition escape from their “prison” where they are held by The Word in the body of a psychiatrist named Joe Hovaugh. On their journey they assist their grandchildren from the Blackfoot nation in setting the world back in balance. The narrative is an epic word war for the rights to tell the real story of North America. As the human characters live their stories and the mythic characters retell theirs, Canadian and U.S. history and literature are reconstructed in terms of indigenous witnesses and storytellers from the past and the present.
—Melissa Hearn, Northern Michigan University, Marquette

Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water is an ambitious book that takes on pressing issues that are currently of concern to the fields of western American literature and American Indian studies. Postmodernist narrative strategies meet tricksterism head-on as four Indian escapees—aptly named Ishmael, the Lone Ranger, Robinson Crusoe, and Hawkeye—make their way to the Canadian town of Blossom near the Blackfoot Indian Reserve where they set about fixing things that seem wrong. Elements that need to be reworked here include the master narrative of westward expansion, the clichéd endings of classic Hollywood Westerns, romantic plot devices, and white myths of Indian identity. King’s novel is a complicated but entertaining text that examines issues of politics, knowledge, identity, narrative, and power. Green Grass, Running Water is also a favorite among students.
—Susan Kollin, Montana State University, Bozeman

Animal Dreams. By Barbara Kingsolver. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991. $14.00.

Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams is a favorite of mine. Among the many things that I like about the novel is the bond between the sisters—the older, Cosima (Codi), and the younger, Halimeda (Hallie). An adult Codi returns to her home of Grace, Arizona, after fourteen years because their father, Dr. Homer Noline, seems to be suffering from senility. Codi, with her punk-rocker haircut and stylish shoes, accepts a job at the high school, having abruptly terminated her medical career. Meanwhile, Hallie, who recently gave up her job as a pest-control expert at the local extension office, is heading toward war-torn Nicaragua to help the farmers. Without a mother, the girls are intensely close, and Codi, reluctant to see Hallie head toward the dangers in Nicaragua, savors her last call before Hallie crosses the border; Codi “just stood still for a minute, giving Hallie’s and my thoughts their last chance to run quietly over the wires, touching each other in secret signals as they pass, like a column of ants.” I feel the connection between Codi and Hallie is tangible. Kingsolver gives us multiple points of view; Codi tells her own story in first-person narration, Doc Homer’s is told from third-person perspective, and Hallie’s is revealed in her letters to Codi. This is a rich, satisfying read.
—Elizabeth A. Turner, William Rainey Harper College, Palatine, Illinois

Man from the Creeks: A Novel. By Robert Kroetsch. Toronto: Random House of Canada. Out of Print.

Robert Kroetsch’s Man from the Creeks might be his best novel. It begins with the Robert Service poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and goes from there, as only Kroetsch can, into flights of gorgeous language and tall tale at once.
—Anne Kaufman, Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D.C.

Mother Tongue. By Demetria Martinez. New York: Ballantine, 1997. $12.00.

For those not dissuaded by the brutal history of the Americas fictionally recrafted by Leslie Silko’s Almanac of the Dead (1992), Demetria Martinez’s Mother Tongue offers a fresh depiction of survivors of Central American atrocities and their North American allies. Salved by the passage of time and the curative powers of remembering and storytelling, Martinez’s novel dissolves much of the brittle ironic distance found in Silko’s text. Martinez successfully “break[s] a few hearts . . . [and] make[s] people look ugliness in the face.” But she also successfully humanizes her protagonist, Maria, depicting her realization that her “heart needed to be broken and reset properly so it could carry her through life.”

Mother Tongue is narrated by Maria, who recounts her experiences as a nineteen-year-old, Mexican American Albuquerquean coming to consciousness while serving the 1980s sanctuary movement. Into this narrative, Martinez weaves the voices of Maria’s lover, José Luis Romero, a Salvadoran refugee; her wizened godmother, Solédad; Amnesty Internationalesque “Urgent Action” documents; reactionary U.S. newspaper articles; and her unfocused, idealistic son. This polyphony disrupts Maria’s romanticized depictions of her lover, just as it radically undermines the media misrepresentations of U.S.-supported El Salvadoran military repression.

Revealing Martinez’s poet’s eye and pen, Maria’s narrative is frequently overwrought. Yet her decadent metaphors are tempered by Solédad’s “words short and fiery as fuses” and by Maria’s self-consciousness regarding the limited ability of memory and words to represent reality. Martinez also creates tension between Maria’s dilettantish dabbling in a heady pastiche of Eastern religions and psychobabble and José Luis’s grounded experience of liberation theology: stating that “when a refugee told his or her story, it was not psychoanlysis, it was testimonio, story as prophecy, facts assembled to change not the self but the times.” Having partially healed “invisible wounds” inflicted amidst North American privilege, Maria jealously confesses that her wounds were “not on the same scale as death squads and disappearances. . . . [But] I keep feeling like it’s all part of the same pattern. Of people loving power, or some such thing, more than life.” Through passages such as this, Martinez’s novel reminds us of the limited powers of witnessing and of oppressive historical forces that love can transcend. Almost.
—Matt Burkhart, Utah State University, Logan

The Crossing. By Cormac McCarthy. New York: Random House, 1994. $13.00.

OK, I’ll bite. As I think over this quasi-delicate problem of selection, at least two things come to mind. One is to think seriously about whether any fiction of the American West in the past decade has literally brought me to tears—you know, simply made me cry. The other thing is that in a dominant surveillance culture so invested, to paraphrase Dave Hickey, in parenting us all into early senility, I would like to wander around on occasion in excess, in risky business. Now this particular desire of course might also bring one to tears, if not also to candidacy in a twelve-step or witness protection program. But in terms of western fiction of the last decade where, among other things, excess is courted and where one might also be brought to tears, there’s just one book for me that will never get voted off the mesa: Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing.

In terms of “excess,” this novel—unlike All the Pretty Horses—does not foreground a straightforward linear quest plot, and its prose delivers some of the greatest action sequences and philosophical monologues in verbal registers resonant of Hemingway and Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor at their best. The journeys and the issues confronted and worked through are quite simply immense: love and fraternity, kinship and justice, the elusiveness of mastery and the mystery of death. Billy Parham’s eventual border crossing to locate stolen horses or his [dead] brother is in some way about the integrity of the family, which is always threatened in McCarthy’s world. But such crossings and the violence in McCarthy’s work are really more about the very style of the endeavor, the way things are done in the world to establish and then forward values. And while a certain etiquette of violence links McCarthy’s work with Wister’s The Virginian, here old Dad is no longer at the head of the table and the deal thus comes down to improvisatory competency and collaboration, the ethics of emergent tasks which, at times, miraculously bind people together in the face of all odds. And in terms of tears, the combination of beauty and terror rendered by McCarthy in the novel’s opening section as Billy tries to return a captured wolf to its homeland in Mexico is just overwhelming, too much to bear, really. McCarthy is dangerous, for this novel just refuses to be burdened by its larger culture’s nostalgia and its avoidance of all things which just might produce really raw emotions. So for me there’s The Crossing. All the rest is journalism and infomercials. (Well, there IS this new novel by James Welch…)
—Steve Tatum, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

My Year of Meats. By Ruth L. Ozeki. New York: Viking, 1999. $12.95.

Wouldn’t you like the recipe for meatloaf made with a half gallon of Pepsi—not Coke, has to be Pepsi. (Is this one of those deep hidden literary allusions? To John Belushi on SNL in the 1970s?) Or beef fudge? By far the funniest book I’ve read in the past couple of years is My Year of Meats, by Ruth L. Ozeki, a kind of postmodern and multinational The Jungle. Japanese American documentary filmmaker Jane Takagi-Little is hired by a Japanese advertising agency representing a beef lobbying group to produce and direct a show for Japanese TV entitled “My American Wife.” “Meat is the Message.” Throughout the novel she receives faxes from her Japanese boss (John Ueno, pronounced, he says, Wayno) with instructions like the following list of “DESIRABLE THINGS” her “American Wives” should possess:

1. Attractiveness, wholesomeness, warm personality
2. Delicious meat recipe (NOTE: Pork and other meats is second class meats, so please remember this easy motto: “Pork is Possible, but Beef is Best!”)
3. Attractive, docile husband
4. Attractive, obedient children
5. Attractive, wholesome lifestyle
6. Attractive, clean house

Initially gung ho, Jane becomes increasingly critical as she finds out more about meat production and packing, and soon she begins to focus shows on subversive “unattractive”—perhaps even disobedient—subjects. Like the videotaped shows and the faxes, the novel moves back and forth between the United States and Japan, exposing the effects of global capitalism with humor and outrage. Japanese readers might find Ozeki’s critiques of Japanese men, marketing, and media too heavy-handed, but she’s equally sharp and cynical about Americans, and her book shows an awareness of class issues too often lacking in current fiction. Ozeki can’t avoid a fantasy feminist ending, but her wit, cleverness, and social satire make My Year of Meats a great read.
—Melody Graulich, Utah State University, Logan

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. By Tom Robbins. New York: Bantam Books, 1995. $12.95.

Global markets, cancer gurus, missing amphibians, loose monkeys, and the safe sex rapist all converge one rain-soaked Seattle weekend and transform lives in Robbins’s comic econovel. A work of antic wildness, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas proves one can approach a serious subject like environmental catastrophe with quick wit, satiric vision, and humor that hits high and low. Robbins has been curiously ignored by scholars of western American literature, though his demythologized western settings, inventive narrative, and virtuosic style place him among the finest of “New West” novelists. Seattle is a New Western urban space, posteverything (postmodern, postindustrial, posthip) and globally, even galactically connected. As a place of transience, it provides the kinds of confusion and diffusion Robbins sees as necessary conditions of change. Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas is part polemic, part romance, part satire, and part spiritual tract. Blurring all kinds of distinctions, including species boundaries, Robbins has created a unique narrative that stays with one and remains a memorable artifact of a tumultuous decade.
—Susan Naramore Maher, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Diamond Trump: Events Surrounding the Great Powder-House Blowup by the Man Who Lit the Fuse. By Ron Robinson. Sioux Falls, S.D.: Ex Machina, 2000. $l9.95.

You can’t help but like Raymond G. “Preacher” Hardokker, the reluctant safecracker who lit the fuse in Ron Robinson’s latest suspense novel Diamond Trump. You have to pull for a man who is trying to go square, especially when every step he takes carries him deeper into a deadly quagmire of underworld intrigue and he ends up with a gun at his head and a match in his hand and half the dynamite in South Dakota at his feet.

And if you pull hard enough and can read the signs, you may track Preacher all the way from prison to “the whole truth” that the shot-down and blown-up powder-house woman never told the authorities in those days after the blast. One truth, most assuredly, is that the 1930s in Siouxland had no more cataclysmic event than the l936 New Year’s detonation of the Larson Hardware powder-house east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. But the whole truth is that the 1990s in Siouxland had no more startling revelation than the story behind the blast, buried until now in the notes of Argus Leader reporter Alice Marie Sutherland.

In Diamond Trump Robinson has produced a prize winner, a tale of suspense with one of the most intriguing yet disturbing endings in American fiction.
—Arthur R. Huseboe, Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

A Thousand Acres. By Jane Smiley. New York: Ballantine, 1991. $12.00.

The Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award might alone be enough to recommend this novel about the struggle between the three Cook daughters and their father as they work a thousand-acre farm. Although it has been tauted as an Iowa remake of Shakespeare’s King Lear (even more so since the Jessica Lange-Michelle Pfeiffer film), the book defies simplistic pigeon-holing, and I recommend it because I see Smiley writing a novel that eloquently questions the land ethic so central to western American literature, the myth that, no matter what, the relationship between land and humans remains sacred, inviolable, and beneficial to the human. By writing a book focused on the poisoning of land (which, in turn, poisons everything else: morality, relationships, body, and spirit), Smiley creates a novel that is painful to read, but one that is profound and courageous.
—Evelyn I. Funda, Utah State University, Logan

The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton. By Jane Smiley. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. $12.00

From the beginning of her story, Lidie Newton is a charming and engrossing narrator. She admits she’s plain, still unmarried, and therefore, “an odd lot, not very salable, and ready to be marked down.” Even the most sympathetic reader must admit, as Lidie sits near an upstairs floor grate simultaneously eavesdropping on her sisters and hiding from housework, that she is a flake.

Lidie soon stumbles into marriage with Thomas Newton, an abolitionist, and moves with him to Kansas, a hotly contested territory in the 1850s slavery debate. And that’s when the story really gets good. There are plenty of novels with plucky first-person narrators. But the real joy here is that Lidie grows and develops, and her perspective on life goes beyond clever ploys to evade womanly duties.

Jane Smiley succeeds in making politics fascinating. She also confidently crisscrosses her character through the era’s classes and regions. Lidie encounters slaves, slave owners, abolitionists, political activists, uneducated ruffians, rich people and poor ones, finding points of identification and empathy among all of them. For example, her happiness over her own husband’s safety sours when she thinks of another wife’s loss: “I thought of Mrs. Brown, who seemed, in my mind, to be myself in a different dress.” Lidie’s adventures take her through every social stratum. She even spends time disguised as a young man.

The book’s format makes it a fun read. Chapters have titles like “I Eaves-drop, and Hear Ill of Myself” and “I Sully My Character.” Jane Smiley makes her fictional Lidie Newton a former student at the real-life Miss Catharine Beecher’s “Hartford Female Seminary” and includes snippets from Beecher’s A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and at School (1841). Lidie tries to pattern her life after the advice in her tattered copy of Miss Beecher’s manual. Where Miss Beecher’s advice falls short, Lidie finds ways to forge ahead. Her story is enjoyable and honest.
—Angela Ashurst-McGee, Mesa, Arizona

A Deeper Wild. A Novel. By William L. Sullivan. Eugene, Oreg.: Navillus Press, 2000. $18.95.

At last there is a “cracking good” novel based on the life of Joaquin Miller (1839/41?1913) whom William Everson has called “the creator of the ‘Western Archetype.’” A Deeper Wild by William L. Sullivan is so far the most engaging and nearly factually correct interpretation of Miller’s experiences in the gold fields and in matrimony. Sullivan graciously provides the reader with chapter notes delineating the facts from his fiction. Fortunately, Sullivan has hiked and written of much of the country covered by Miller in his day, and so Sullivan brings a fresh new approach to interpreting the much maligned and misreported life of Joaquin Miller, author of Life amongst the Modocs (1873), which Malcolm Margolin says “still has the power to catch us and move us as no other work of this era can.”
—Margaret Guilford-Kardell, Editor, Joaquin Miller Newsletter

The Englishman’s Boy. By Guy Vanderhaeghe. New York: St. Martin, 1996. $14.00.

My nomination for the list is Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman’s Boy, a 1996 historical novel that brilliantly interleaves the history of the Cypress Hills massacre of Assiniboine by U.S. wolfers in 1873—one of the formative events for the North West Mounted Police—with a fictional rendering of Hollywood’s fixation with Westerns during the 1920s. A story remiscent in some ways of The Great Gatsby, Vanderhaeghe’s is a postmodern meditation on western mythologizing. The book won Canada’s Govenor-General’s Award for Fiction in 1996.
—Robert Thacker, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York

Restlessness: A Novel. By Aritha van Herk. Red Deer, Alberta: Red Deer College Press, 1998. $14.98.

Aritha van Herk’s novel Restlessness is set in Calgary (and almost entirely in the Palliser Hotel). Its protagonist is a nameless woman who has hired an assassin to end her life. The novel continues van Herk’s explorations of story/ language/voice/gender and, of course, genre and form. A number of her earlier novels have taken some critical heat for the mix of genres but this one, I think, shows most clearly the power of challenging established notions of order.
—Anne Kaufman, Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D.C.

La Maravilla. By Alfredo Véa Jr. New York: Penguin, Plume, 1993. $13.95.

Imagine a place inhabited by an aristocratic Spanish-Catholic curandera, Yaqui Indians, Blacks, Whites, Chicanos, Okies, Arkies, and Asians; a place of juke joints, transvestites, prostitutes, and the ghosts of wandering hoboes; a place where the pious and sinful alike can run their extension cords to draw electricity from the Mighty Clouds of Joy Church; a place where an enormous feast can bring them all together for “history you can eat.” Such was the sort of world in which Alfredo Véa grew up during the 1950s, and such is the world that he brings to life again in this at once comic, tragic, and magical novel about a squatter settlement located to the east of Phoenix, in the city’s “unofficial trash heap.” Centered largely on the experiences of young Beto, grandson to the curandera and her Yaqui husband, La Maravilla explores the ways in which the people of “Buckeye Road” are sustained in their passions, fears, and relationships. Much more than just an evocative memoir, this highly significant reworking of Chicano literary tradition weaves together most, if not all, of the variegated cultural forces and identities that converge in the American West, and it does so in a richly textured style that supports the alternately mystical and material conditions at the heart of Beto’s initiation into community.
—Nicolas Witschi, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo

Montana 1948. By Larry Watson. New York: Pocket, 1993. $12.00.

My entry for the contemporary fiction would be Larry Watson’s Montana 1948 because it tells an accessible, intelligent story about the New West and about the very way that history is “told,” “written,” and “remembered.” Its deceptively simple style belies the complex range of ideas that the novel addresses: borders, white-Indian relations, gender issues, family loyalties and jealousies, growing up. Above all, it is a book that makes me think about the nature of history and how in the West it has been the product of myth and of “post mortem cover ups” (as Watson terms it). However, as the novel also shows, it is often easier to run with the myth than have to deconstruct it and offer some convincing alternative in its place.
—Neil Campbell, University of Derby, Great Britain

Posted in wal-research | Comments Off on Reading Suggestions (for “Not-to-Be-Missed Contemporary Fiction of the American West,” 1990-2000)

Tables of Contents 2010-2013

Thursday, November 18th, 2010


Tables of Contents


Spring 2010 (vol. 45, no. 1)

Locating the Modern Mexican in Josefina Niggli’s Step Down, Elder Brother Emily Lutenski
“Truer ’n Hell”: Lies, Capitalism, and Cultural Imperialism in Owen Wister’s The Virginian, B. M. Bower’s The Happy Family, and Mourning Dove’s Cogewea Sara Humphreys
Stepping onto the Yakama Reservation: Land and Water Rights in Raymond Carver’s “Sixty Acres” Chad Wriglesworth
Joshua David Bellin, Medicine Bundle: Indian Sacred Performance and American Literature, 1824–1932 Katherine Young Evans
Sherman Alexie, War Dances Loree Westron
John Lloyd Purdy, Writing Indian, Native Conversations Stuart Christie
Paul Chaat Smith, Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong Bryan Russell
Stuart Christie, Plural Sovereignties and Contemporary Indigenous Literature Linda Lizut Helstern
John Bierhorst, transl., Ballads of the Lords of New Spain: The Codex “Romances de los Señores de la Nueva España” Keri Holt
Patricia Nelson Limerick, Andrew Cowell, and Sharon K. Collinge, eds., Remedies for a New West: Healing Landscapes, Histories, and Cultures Corey Lee Lewis
Rudolfo A. Anaya, Rudolfo Anaya: The Essays Francisco A. Lomelí
Donald Pizer, American Naturalism and the Jews: Garland, Norris, Dreiser, Wharton, and Cather Charles L. Crow
Keith Newlin, Hamlin Garland: A Life Philip Joseph
Joan Kane, The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife Eric Heyne
Linda A. Fisher and Carrie Bowers, Agnes Lake Hickok: Queen of the Circus, Wife of a Legend Jan Cerney
Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Jack London’s Racial Lives: A Critical Biography Gary Scharnhorst
Nancy Lord, Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life Ann Ronald
Gregg Cantrell and Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas Daniel D. Arreola
Patrick D. Murphy, Ecocritical Explorations in Literary and Cultural Studies: Fences, Boundaries, and Fields Shane Billings
John Daniel, The Far Corner: Northwestern Views on Land, Life, and Literature Glen Love
Linda M. Hasselstrom, No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life Kerry Fine
Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna Pamela Pierce
Scott Slovic, Going Away to Think: Engagement, Retreat, and Ecocritical Responsibility Linda Underhill

Summer 2010 (vol. 45, no. 2)

“It was all a hard, fast ride that ended in the mud”: Deconstructing the Myth of the Cowboy in Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories Katie O. Arosteguy
Haunting and History in Louis Sachar’s Holes Kirsten Møllegaard
Down the Santa Fe Trail to the City upon a Hill Andrew Menard
Robert McKee Irwin, Bandits, Captives, Heroines, and Saints: Cultural Icons of Mexico’s Northwest Borderlands David Peterson
Rebecca M. Schreiber, Cold War Exiles in Mexico: U.S. Dissidents and the Culture of Critical Resistance Helen Delpar
Ann Putnam, Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye Nancy Lord
Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Glass of Water Sean McCray
Michelle Burnham, A Separate Star: Selected Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson Raúl Coronado
William H. Katerberg, Future West: Utopia and Apocalypse in Frontier Science Fiction David Mogen
Stephanie C. Palmer, Together by Accident: American Local Color Literature and the Middle Class Matthew J. Lavin
Jim Charles, Reading, Learning, Teaching N. Scott Momaday, and Robert M. Nelson, Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Ceremony”: The Recovery of Tradition Lee Schweninger
Patrick Dobson, Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains Susan Naramore Maher
Rinda West, Out of the Shadow: Ecopsychology, Story, and Encounters with the Land Mark C. Long
Brian Booth and Glen A. Love, Davis Country: H. L. Davis’s Northwest Paul Crumbley
Mike Barenti, Kayaking Alone Jeffrey McCarthy
Steven L. Davis, J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind Verne Huser
Eric Gardner, Unexpected Places: Relocating Nineteenth-Century African American Literature Michael K. Johnson
Susan Sleeper-Smith, Contesting Knowledge: Museums and Indigenous Perspectives Kym S. Rice
Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict through the Captivity Literature, and Victoria Smith, Captive Arizona, 1851–1900 Randi Lynn Tanglen
Kenneth Scambray, Queen Calafia’s Paradise: California and the Italian American Novel Charles Scruggs
Dorothy Allred Solomon, In My Father’s House: A Memoir of Polygamy Bonnie Bastian Moore
Louise Erdrich, Shadow Tag James Cihlar

Fall 2010 (vol. 45, no. 3)

Cultural Resistance and “Playing Indian” in Thomas King’s
“Joe the Painter and the Deer Island Massacre”
Timothy Glenn
“Terrible Women”: Gender, Platonism, and Christianity in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House Anne Baker
Unmapping Adventure: Sewing Resistance in Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms T. Christine Jespersen
Shirley A. Leckie and Nancy J. Parezo, eds., Their Own Frontier: Women Intellectuals Re-Visioning the American West Andrea G. Radke-Moss
Joan Stauffer, Behind Every Man: The Story of Nancy Cooper Russell, and Candace C. Kant, ed., Dolly & Zane Grey: Letters from a Marriage David Fenimore
Lucy Marks and David Porter, Seeking Life Whole: Willa Cather and the Brewsters Laura Winters
Kimberli A. Lee, ed., “I Do Not Apologize for the Length of This Letter”: The Mari Sandoz Letters on Native American Rights, 1940–1965 Katherine Bahr
Daniel H. Usner Jr., Indian Work Jeanette Palmer
N. Scott Momaday, The Journey of Tai-me William M. Clements
Diane Glancy, Pushing the Bear: After the Trail of Tears Erin Murrah-Mandril
John Morán González, Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican American Literature Juan Alonzo
Conrado Espinoza, Under the Texas Sun/El Sol de Texas Maria O’Connell
Américo Paredes, Cantos de adolescencia/Songs of Youth (1932–1937) Grisel Y. Acosta
Silvio Sirias, Meet Me under the Ceiba Lucrecia Guerrero
Daryl J. Maeda, Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America Moon-Ho Jung
Brian Flota, A Survey of Multicultural San Francisco Bay Literature, 1955–1979: Ishmael Reed, Maxine Hong Kingston, Frank Chin, and the Beat Generation Brett C. Sigurdson
Eileen O’Keefe McVicker and Barbara Scot, Child of Steens Mountain, and Robin Cody, Another Way the River Has: Taut True Tales from the Northwest J. T. Bushnell
James Karman, ed., The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers with Selected Letters of Una Jeffers: Volume One, 1890–1930 Tim Hunt
Dan Aadland, In Trace of TR: A Montana Hunter’s Journey, and Robert Root, Following Isabella: Travels in Colorado Then and Now Ann Ronald
Nguyen Qúi Dú’c, Where the Ashes Are: The Odyssey of a Vietnamese Family Sophie Quinn-Judge
Lisa Jones, Broken: A Love Story Summer Wood
Lucha Corpi, Death at Solstice: A Gloria Damasco Mystery María Herrera-Sobek
Kent Meyers, Twisted Tree Robert Headley
Pamela Carter Joern, The Plain Sense of Things Tyler S. Holzer

Winter 2011 (vol. 45, no. 4)

Practicing Sovereignty in Greg Sarris’s Watermelon Nights Reginald Dyck
Clean Hands and an Iron Face: Frontier Masculinity and
Boston Manliness in The Rise of Silas Lapham
Matthew J. Lavin
The Sentimental Politics of Language:
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s and José María Sánchez’s
Texan Stories
Marissa López
The Mark Twain Biography Wars Charles L. Crow
John Beck, Dirty Wars: Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American Literature Bill D. Toth
Leonard Engel, ed., A Violent Conscience: Essays on the Fiction of James Lee Burke Jon A. Jackson
Megan Riley McGilchrist, The Western Landscape in Cormac McCarthy and Wallace Stegner: Myths of the Frontier Stacey Peebles
Carol Sklenicka, Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life Chad Wriglesworth
Frances McCue, The Car That Brought You Here Still Runs: Revisiting the Northwest Towns of Richard Hugo Kim Stafford
Phyllis Morgan, N. Scott Momaday: Remembering Ancestors, Earth, and Traditions: An Annotated Bio-Bibliography Larry Evers
James R. Boylston and Allen J. Wiener, David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man’s Friend, with Collected Correspondence, Selected Speeches, and Circulars Paula Marks
William Haywood Henderson, Native Elizabeth Abele
Tim Z. Hernandez, Breathing, In Dust Gerald Haslam
Steven L. Davis, J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind Tom Pilkington
Michelle Wick Patterson, Natalie Curtis Burlin: A Life in Native and African American Music Martha Viehmann
Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken, Homelands: How Women Made the West Sue Armitage
Maria Melendez, Flexible Bones Cynthia Hogue
Angie Chau, Quiet As They Come Christopher Schaberg
David Toscana, The Last Reader Beth Pollack

Spring 2011 (vol. 46, no. 1)

Sacred Spaces, Profane “Manufactories”: Willa Cather’s Split Artist in The Professor’s House and My Mortal Enemy Kim Vanderlaan
“A Terrible Genius”: Robinson Jeffers’s Art of Narrative Robert Zaller
The Quilt as (Non-)Commodity in William S. Yellow Robe Jr.’s The Star Quilter Deborah Weagel
Crossing Territories: New Spaces in Six Works of Fiction Manuel Muñoz
New West or Old?
Men and Masculinity in Recent Fiction by Western American Men
David J. Peterson
Review of J. M. Ferguson Jr., Westering: A Novel in Stories Martin Bucco
Review of John Addiego, Tears of the Mountain Brett Garcia Myhren
Review of Lisa Knopp, Interior Places Gaynell Gavin
Review of Ann Ronald, Friendly Fallout 1953 David Mazel
Review of Jim Dwyer, Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Ecofiction O. Alan Weltzien
Review of Lowell Jaeger, ed., New Poets of the American West Peggy Shumaker
Review of Bill Sherwonit, Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness Jennifer Schell
Review of John J. Murphy, Françoise Palleau-Papin, and Robert Thacker, eds., Willa Cather: A Writer’s Worlds Timothy W. Bintrim
Review of Joanna Levin, Bohemia in America, 1858–1920 Brett C. Sigurdson
Review of Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson,Mary Austin and the American West Karen S. Langlois
Review of Jennifer L. McMahon and
B. Steve Csaki, eds., The Philosophy of the Western
Brian McCuskey
Review of Frank Maynard, Cowboy’s Lament: A Life on the Open Range Richard Hutson
Review of Linwood Laughy, The Fifth Generation: A Nez Perce Tale Loree Westron

Summer 2011 (vol. 46, no. 2)

The Fat Man on Snow Dome: Surprise and Sense of Place (or, Reading Laurie Ricou’s David Wagoner) Nicholas Bradley
Untidy Borders: Eamonn Wall’s Negotiation of the American West Susan Naramore Maher
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence Inhabits Film Noir Alan P. Barr
Down on the Farm: Memoirs and Nonfiction on Agricultural Lives Evelyn I. Funda
Book History Comes West Tara Penry
Review of Thomas McGuane, Driving on the Rim Stephen P. Cook
Review of Richard C. Rattenbury, Arena Legacy: The Heritage of American Rodeo Demetrius W. Pearson
Review of Annie Proulx, Bird Cloud Matt Low
Review of Monica Perales and Raúl A. Ramos, eds., Recovering the Hispanic History of Texas Cordelia E. Barrera
Review of Jordan Stouck, ed., “Collecting Stamps Would Have Been More Fun”: Canadian Publishing and the Correspondence of Sinclair Ross, 1933–1986. Dick Harrison
Review of Flannery Burke, From Greenwich Village to Taos: Primitivism and Place at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Tyler Nickl
Review of David Mogen, Honyocker Dreams: Montana Memories O. Alan Weltzien
Review of Ruth McLaughlin, Bound Like Grass: A Memoir from the Western High Plains and of Mary Zeiss Stange, Hard Grass: Life on the Crazy Woman Bison Ranch Linda M. Hasselstrom
Review of Graciela Limón, The River Flows North Elisa Bordin
Review of Phillip Connors, Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout John Charles Gilmore

Fall 2011 (vol. 46, no. 3):
Special Issue: Western Suburbia

Special Issue on Western Suburbia Neil Campbell
“An assemblage of habits”: D. J. Waldie and Neil Campbell—A Suburban Conversation D. J. Waldie and Neil Campbell
Space, Gender, Race: Josephine Miles and the Poetics of the California Suburbs Jo Gill
Lakewood: Portraits of a Sacred American Suburb Tom M. Johnson
Tract Homes on the Range: The Suburbanization of the American West Robert Bennett
“A kingdom of a thousand princes but no kings”:The Postsuburban Network in Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs Tim Foster
Review of Lawrence Culver, The Frontier of Leisure in California and the Shaping of Modern America William Philpott
Review of John Addiego, Barbara Berglund, Making San Francisco American: Cultural Frontiers in the Urban West, 1846–1906 Raymond W. Rast
Review of Char Miller, ed., Cities and Nature in the American West Lawrence Culver
Review of Kevin R. McNamara, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles Jaquelin Pelzer
Review of Susan Suntree, Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California Brett Garcia Myhren
Review of Raymond D. Gastil and Barnett Singer, The Pacific Northwest: Growth of a Regional Identity Stephen Trimble
Review of William R. Handley, ed., The Brokeback Book: From Story to Cultural Phenomenon Michael K. Johnson
Review of Jim Reese, ghost on 3rd David Cremean
Review of Krista Comer, Surfer Girls in the New World Order Robert Bennett

Winter 2012 (vol. 46, no. 4)

John Russell Bartlett’s Literary Borderlands: Ethnology, War, and the United States Boundary Survey Robert Gunn
No Laughing Matter: William Saroyan’s Californians in Crisis Greg Levonian
Morta Las Vegas Stephen Tatum and Nathaniel Lewis
On the Border, on the Edge: Charles Bowden’s Twinned Trilogies David N. Cremean
Review of Harriet Elinor Smith et al., eds., Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 Chad Rohman
Review of Lawrence I. Berkove and Joseph Csicsila, Heretical Fictions: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain Chad Rohman
Review of Gary Scharnhorst, ed., Twain in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates Robert C. Evans
Review of John Morán González, The Troubled Union: Expansionist Imperatives in Post-Reconstruction American Novels David Anthony
Review of Todd Simmons, ed., Matter 13: Edward Abbey David Joplin
Review of Audrey Goodman, Lost Homelands: Ruin and Reconstruction in the 20th-Century Southwest Ann E. Lundberg
Review of Dan Flores, Visions of the Big Sky: Painting and Photographing the Northern Rocky Mountain West Flannery Burke
Review of Jake Silverstein, Nothing Happened and Then It Did: A Chronicle in Fact and Fiction Barbara Barney Nelson
Review of George B. Handley, Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River Jeffrey McCarthy
Review of David Wyatt, Secret Histories: Reading Twentieth-Century American Literature Lars Erik Larson
Review of Anne Coray, Violet Transparent Marybeth Holleman
Review of James R. Dow, Roger Welsch, and Susan Dow, eds., Wyoming Folklore: Reminiscences, Folktales, Beliefs, Customs, and Folk Speech Lisa Gabbert
Review of Rev. Santiago Tafolla, A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate Leigh Johnson
Review of Garrick Bailey, ed., Traditions of the Osage: Stories Collected and Translated by Francis La Flesche and of Geary Hobson, Janet McAdams, and Kathryn Walkiewicz, eds., The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing after Removal Matt Low
Review of Steven Trout, On the Battlefield of Memory: The First World War and American Remembrance, 1919–1941 Sarah Stoeckl
Review of Aparajita Nanda, ed., Black California: A Literary Anthology Blake Allmendinger

Spring 2012 (vol. 47, no. 1)

“Perhaps the Words Remember Me”: Richard Brautigan’s Very Short Stories Christopher Gair
Translating the American West into English: The Case of Hendrik Conscience’s Het Goudland Michael Boyden & Liselotte Vandenbussche
West by Southeast: Peter Matthiessen’s Florida Trilogy as Western Fiction Carl Abbott
Peyote in the Kitchen: Gendered Identities and Imperial Domesticity in Edna Ferber’s Cimarron Amanda Zink
Review of Mary Clearman Blew, This Is Not the Ivy League: A Memoir Lois M. Welch
Review of James C. Work, Don’t Shoot the Gentile Levi S. Peterson
Review of Todd James Pierce and Jarret Keene, eds., Dead Neon: Tales of Near-Future Las Vegas, and of Hal K. Rothman, Nevada: The Making of Modern Nevada Gerald Haslam
Review of Brian Doyle, Mink River Chad Wriglesworth
Review of N. Scott Momaday, In the Bear’s House William M. Clements
Review of Richard Yañez, Cross Over Water Bob J. Frye
Review of William Kloefkorn, Swallowing the Soap: New and Selected Poems Michael Sowder
Review of Genaro M. Padilla, The Daring Flight of My Pen: Cultural Politics and Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá’s “Historia de la Nueva Mexico,” 1610 Ralph Bauer
Review of Dana Leibsohn and Barbara E. Mundy, Vistas, 1520–1820: Visual Culture in Spanish America/Cultura Visual de Hispanoamérica Keri Holt
Review of Tyche Hendricks, The Wind Doesn’t Need a Passport: Stories from the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Maria O’Connell
Review of James Skillen, The Nation’s Largest Landlord: The Bureau of Land Management in the American West, and of Martin Nie, The Governance of Western Public Lands: Mapping Its Present and Future Debbie Lee
Review of Heather Fryer, Perimeters of Democracy: Inverse Utopias and the Wartime Social Landscape in the American West Audrey Goodman
Review of Jace Weaver, Notes from a Miner’s Canary: Essays on the State of Native America Reginald Dyck
Review of Forrestine C. Hooker, Child of the Fighting Tenth: On the Frontier with the Buffalo Soldiers, ed. by Steve Wilson Mary Clearman Blew
Review of David Remley, Kit Carson: The Life of an American Border Man Jennifer Schell
Review of David Theis, ed., Literary Houston Alexander Adkins
Review of Rudolfo Anaya, Randy Lopez Goes Home Cordelia E. Barrera
Review of Hart Stilwell, Glory of the Silver King: The Golden Age of Tarpon Fishing, ed. by Brandon D. Shuler Maria O’Connell

Summer 2012 (vol. 47, no. 2):
Special Issue: Television in the West

Introduction: Television and the Depiction of the American West Michael K. Johnson
The Dangers of Driving the Dalton: The Paradoxical Industrial and Environmental Aesthetics of Ice Road Truckers Jennifer Schell
She Hits Like a Man, but She Kisses Like a Girl: TV Heroines, Femininity, Violence, and Intimacy Kerry Fine
The Warp, Woof, and Weave of This Story’s Tapestry Would Foster the Illusion of Further Progress: Justified and the Evolution of Western Violence Justin A. Joyce
Rejuvenating “Eternal Inequality” on the Digital Frontiers of Red Dead Redemption Sara Humphreys
Review of Alvin H. Marill, Television Westerns: Six Decades of Sagebrush Sheriffs, Scalawags, and Sidewinders Cynthia J. Miller
Review of Rhonda V. Wilcox and Tanya R. Cochran, eds., Investigating “Firefly” and “Serenity”: Science Fiction on the Frontier Corey Dethier
Review of Christine Cornea, ed., Genre and Performance: Film and Television Sue Matheson
Review of Michael G. Fitzgerald and Boyd Magers, Ladies of the Western: Interviews with 25 Actresses from the Silent Era to the Television Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s Holly Jean Richard
Review of Ed Andreychuk, Louis L’Amour on Film and Television D. B. Gough
Review of John L. Simons and Robert Merrill, Peckinpah’s Tragic Westerns: A Critical Study Leonard Engel
Review of Mary C. Beltrán, Latina/o Stars in U.S. Eyes: The Making and Meanings of Film and TV Stardom and of Isabel Molina-Guzmán, Dangerous Curves: Latina Bodies in the Media Melinda Linscott
Review of Manuel Muñoz, What You See in the Dark John Hursh

Fall 2012 (vol. 47, no. 3)

Narrative, Being, and the Dialogic Novel: The Problem of Discourse and Language in Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing Alan Noble
Speaking Chinook: Adaptation, Indigeneity, and Pauline Johnson’s British Columbia Stories Martha L. Viehmann
Before the West Was West: Rethinking the Temporal Borders of Western American Literature Amy T. Hamilton and Tom J. Hillard
Don Graham, State of Minds: Texas Culture and Its Discontents Andrew Husband
Paul Lindholdt, In Earshot of Water: Notes from the Columbia Plateau Hal Crimmel
Brady Harrison, ed., All Our Stories Are Here: Critical Perspectives on Montana Literature Capper Nichols
William H. Truettner, Painting Indians and Building Empires in North America, 1710–1840 Rebecca M. Lush
Scott Richard Lyons, X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent Daniel M. Radus
John Lloyd Purdy, Riding Shotgun into the Promised Land Dallin Jay Bundy
Panthea Reid, Tillie Olsen: One Woman, Many Riddles Susanne George Bloomfield
Jeff Berglund and Jan Roush, eds., Sherman Alexie: A Collection of Critical Essays Janet Dean
Hugh J. Reilly, Bound to Have Blood: Frontier Newspapers and the Plains Indian Wars William V. Lombardi
Eamonn Wall, Writing the Irish West: Ecologies and Traditions David Mogen
Lydia R. Cooper, No More Heroes: Narrative Perspective and Morality in Cormac McCarthy Trenton Hickman
Dean Rader, Engaged Resistance: American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to the NMAI Breanne Roberson
Drucilla Wall, The Geese at the Gates Joshua Doležal
Summer Wood, Wrecker Lawrence Coates

Winter 2013 (vol. 47, no. 4)

A Case for Enchantment: Re-reading Jean Stafford with “The Mountain Day” Cathryn Halverson
Writing against Wilderness: María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s Elite Environmental Justice Karen L. Kilcup
“What manner of heretic?”: Demons in McCarthy and the Question of Agency J.A. Bernstein
Christine Bold, ed., The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, Volume Six: US Popular Print Culture 1860–1920 Tara Penny
Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández, Un-speakable Violence: Remapping US and Mexican National Imaginaries Joshua O’Brien
Frances W. Kaye, Goodlands: A Meditation and History on he Great Plains Robert Thacker
Sara L. Spurgeon, ed., Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, The Road Christopher Schaberg
Lawrence Rodgers and Jerrold Hirsch, eds., America’s Folklorist: B. A. Botkin and American Culture Ennifer Eastman Attebery
Lee Schweninger, ed., The First We Can Remember: Colorado Pioneer Women Tell Their Stories Udy Nolte Temple
Tom Lynch and Susan N. Maher, eds., Artifacts & lluminations: Critical Essays on Loren Eiseley Andrew Angyal
Gerald W. Haslam with Janice E. Haslam, In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S. I. Hayakawa Frank Bergon
Stephen Tatum, In the Remington Moment Kenneth Haltman
Clay S. Jenkinson, The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer n the Wilderness Ryan Badger
Mark Rifkin, When Did Indians Become Straight? Kinship, he History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty Gabriel S. Estrada
Scott Lauria Morgensen, Spaces be-tween Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization Lisa Tatonetti
Michael Hames-García, Identity Complex: Making the Case for Multiplicity and of David J. Vázquez, Triangulations: Narrative Strategies for Navigating Latino Identity Maria Damon
Kippra D. Hopper and Laurie J. Churchill, Art of West Texas Women: A Celebration Kerry Fine
Steven W. Hackel, ed., Alta California: Peoples in Motion, dentities in Formation Anne Goldman
Nicholas Monk, ed., Inter-textual and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Cormac McCarthy Darryl Hattenhauer
James Karman, ed., The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers with Selected Letters of Una Jeffers: Volume Two, 1931–1939 Tim Hunt
Donald Pizer, ed., Hamlin Garland, Prairie Radical: Writings from he 1890s Eric Morel
Maylei Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement and of AnaLouise Keating and Gloria González-López, eds., Bridging: How Gloria Anzaldúa’s Life and Work Transformed Our Own Yolanda Padilla
Elissa Auther and Adam Lerner, eds., West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965–1977 Lois Rudnick
Patrick Madden, Quoti-diana: Essay Brandon R. Schrand
John Joseph Mathews, ed. by Susan Kalter, Twenty Thousand Mornings: An Autobiography James H. Cox
Willard Wyman, Blue Heaven Dynette Reynold
Robert Alexander González, Designing Pan-America: US Architectural Visions for the Western Hemisphere Amanda Ellis

Double Issue Spring & Summer 2013 (vol. 48, nos. 1&2)

Assessing the Postwestern Krista Comer, guest editor
Inhabiting the Icon: Shipping Containers and the New Imagination of Western Space Sarah Hirsch
Third Cinema Goes West: Common Ground for Film and Literary Theory in Postregional Discourse Courtney Fellion
Narcocorridos and the Nostalgia of Violence: Postmodern Resistance en la Frontera Chris Muniz
“‘Refusing to halt’: Mobility and the Quest for Spatial Justice in Helena María Viramontes’s Their Dogs Came with Them and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange Sarah Wald
Shaking Awake the Memory: The Gothic Quest for Place in Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo Paul Wickelson
Settler Sovereignty and the Rhizomatic West, or, The Significance of the Frontier in Postwestern Studies Alex Trimble Young
“It All Comes Together” in … Reno?: Confronting the Postwestern Geographic Imaginary in Willy Vlautin’s The Motel Life William V. Lombardi
The Past and the Postwestern: Garland’s Cavanagh, Closure, and Conventions of Reading Eric Morel
Critical Regionalism, the US-Mexican War, and Nineteenth-Century American Literary History Randi Lynn Tanglen
“Might be going to have lived”: The West in the Subjunctive Mood Andy Meyer

Fall 2013 (vol. 48, no. 3)

From the Editor  Melody Graulich
Written on the Body: A Third Space Reading of Larry McMurtry’s Streets of Laredo Cordelia E. Barrera
“No Transient Spectacle”: Bayard Taylor, Wilderness Tourism, and the Re-creation of the United States James Weaver
“New England Innocent” in the Land of Sunshine: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and California Jennifer S. Tuttle
Panel Discussion: From Blood Simple to True Grit: A Conversation about the Coen Brothers’ Cinematic West Neil Campbell, Susan Kollin, Lee Clark Mitchell, and Stephen Tatum
Review of Nicolas S. Witschi, A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West  David Wrobel
Review of Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the American West: The New Negro’s Western Experience Emily Lutenski
Review of David Rio, Amaia Ibarraran, and Martin Simonson, eds., Beyond the Myth: New Perspectives on Western Texts O. Alan Weltzien
Nina Baym, Women Writers of the American West, 1833–1927  Christie Smith
Review of Denice Turner, Writing the Heavenly Frontier: Metaphor, Geography, and Flight Auto-biography in America 1927–1954 Bernard Quetchenbach
Review of Bill Mohr, Hold-Outs: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance, 1948–1992 Lisa Locascio
Review of Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti, eds., Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature Andrew Uzendoski
Review of Ernest J. Finney, Sequoia Gardens: California Stories and of Lawrence Coates, The Garden of the World Chris Muniz
Review of Forrest G. Robinson, Gabriel Noah Brahm Jr., and Catherine Carlstroem, The Jester and the Sages: Mark Twain in Conversation with Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx Corey Dethier
Review of Ned Buntline, The Hero of a Hundred Fights: Collected Stories from the Dime Novel King, from Buffalo Bill to Wild Bill Hickok Adele H. Bealer
Review of David Carpenter, A Hunter’s Confession Henry Hudson
Review of Daniel Worden, Masculine Style: The American West and Literary Modernism David Peterson
Review of Patrick Hicks, ed., A Harvest of Words: Contemporary South Dakota Poetry Jeffrey Howard
Review of Melissa J. Homestead and Guy J. Reynolds, eds., Cather Studies 9: Willa Cather and Modern Cultures Steven B. Shively

Winter 2014 (vol. 48, no. 4)

“Nothing but land”: Women’s Narratives, Gardens, and the Settler-Colonial Imaginary in the US West and Australian Outback Tom Lynch
 “Learn to talk Yaqui”: Mexico and the Cherokee Literary Politics of John Milton Oskison and Will Rogers  James H. CoX
All the Pretty Mexican Girls: Whiteness and Racial Desire in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and Cities of the Plain Jennifer A. Reimer
Resisting the Border: Natural Narrative, Everyday Story Pattie Cowell
Review of Nathan Straight, Autobiography, Ecology, and the Well-Placed Self: The Growth of Natural Biography in Contemporary American Life Writing   Tyler Nickl
Review of Andrew Menard, Sight Unseen: How Frémont’s First Expedition Changed the American Landscape Robert Thacker
Review of Lori Lee Wilson, The Joaquín Band: The History behind the Legend  Elisa Warford
Review of Robin L. Murray and Joseph K. Heumann, Gunfight at the Eco-Corral: Western Cinema and the Environment  Linda Mizejewski
Review of John Blair Gamber, Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins: Waste and Contamination in Contemporary U.S. Ethnic Literatures  Kristin Ladd
Review of Robin Troy, Liberty Lanes Matthew Heimburger
Review of Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed, In the Land of the Grasshopper Song: Two Women in the Klamath River Indian Country in 1908–09with an introduction by Susan Bernardin   Anne L. Kaufman
Review of Lois Palken Rudnick, The Suppressed Memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan: Sex, Syphilis, and Pyschoanalysis in the Making of Modern American Culture Judy Nolte Temple
Review of Martin Etchart, The Last Shepherd David Río
Review of A. Gabriel Meléndez and Francisco Lomelí, eds. and trans., The Writings of Eusebio Chacón Laura Padilla
Review of Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice Monica Linford
Review of Kathleen Johnson, Subterranean Red Elizabeth Toombs
Review of Larry McMurtry, Custer Brian Dippie
Review of Ann Moseley and Sarah Cheney Watson, eds., Willa Cather and Aestheticism: From Romanticism to Modernism Max Despain
Review of Elizabeth Dodd, Horizon’s Lens: My Time on the Turning World  Sarah Stoeckl
Review of Julian Murphet and Mark Steven, eds., Style of Extinction: Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”  Alex Engebretson
Review of Christopher Schaberg, The Textual Life of Airports: Reading the Culture of Flight Andy Hageman
Review of Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn: Stories D. Seth Horton
Review of Rene S. Perez II, Along These Highways  Monica E. Montelongo
Review of Greg Kuzma, Mountains of the Moon Harald Wyndham
Review of Glenn Frankel, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend Edwin Whitewolf
Review of Sherman Alexie, Blasphemy Loree Westron




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Tables of contents for
Western American Literature

Friday, July 2nd, 2010


We launched a new website in 2018: “Western American Literature Research.” This site aggregates articles that were published in Western American Literature and arranges them by topic. We currently have them arranged by author, and feature the main authors published about in the journal over the past 53 years. In the coming months we will be adding new authors as well as a variety of thematic subjects. You will need to have access to Project Muse, usually thru your university or community library, in order to access the articles. 
Yes, we did copy the author bio blurbs from Wikipedia. But in doing so we added a link to our site on each of the author’s Wikipedia pages, which we hope will help drive traffic to our pages and also make our site content more highly ranked in searches.

If you are interested in using any essays printed in Western American Literature in a course pack for your class, click on the “permissions requests” graphic:

We have compiled all the tables of contents for Western American Literature, from its beginning in 1966 until the present. This compilation allows you to search all our old issues. Due to the length of the document (it includes every book review ever published in WAL!), we had to cut it into several pieces. Sorry for the inconvenience. Nonetheless, we hope you’ll find this a helpful research tool! And please let us know if you come upon spelling errors.


TOC Spring 1966–Winter 1977

TOC Spring 1977–Winter 1985

TOC Spring 1985–Winter 1991

TOC Spring 1991–Winter 2005

TOC Spring 2005–Winter 2010

TOC Spring 2010–Winter 2014

TOC Spring 2014–Spring 2021

TOC Summer 2021-Present


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Western American Literature


Friday, January 1st, 2010


Below you’ll find conference programs from previous years. The earlier copies do not include last-minute changes.

WLA Conference Program 1999 (Sacramento)

Conference Program 2003: The West of the 21st Century (Houston, Texas)
Conference Program 2004 (Big Sky, Montana)
Conference Program 2005 (Los Angeles, California) [Word file]
Conference Program 2006 (Boise, Idaho)
Conference Program 2007 (Tacoma, Washington) [Word fiile]
Conference Program 2008 (Boulder, Colorado)
Conference Program 2009 (Spearfish, South Dakota)
Conference Program 2010 (Prescott, Arizona)
Conference Program 2011 (Missoula, Montana)
Conference Program 2012 (Lubbock, Texas)
Conference Program 2013 (Berkeley, California)
Conference Program 2014 (Victoria, British Columbia)
Conference Program 2015 (Reno, Nevada)
Conference Program 2016 (Big Sky, Montana)—final copy, including corrections
Conference Program 2017 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)—final copy, including corrections
Conference Program 2018 (St. Louis, Missouri)—final copy, including corrections
Conference Program 2019 (Estes Park, Colorado)—final copy, including corrections
Conference Program 2020 (First Virtual Conference)
No conference held in 2021 due to covid-19.
Conference Program 2022 (Santa Fe, New Mexico)—final copy, including corrections


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Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Western American Literature is indexed in the following publications:

Abstracts of English Studies (discontinued in 1991)
America: History and Life
Humanities International Complete
Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature
Arts and Humanities Citation Index
Book Review Index
Current Contents: Arts and Humanities
Historical Abstracts
MLA International Bibliography

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Western American Literature Research

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

If you are looking for specific authors that were the topic of Western American Literature articles or for a particular topic or a special issue, please go to this page:

(Listings of M.A. theses and doctoral dissertations from 1997-98 to 2003)
“Research in Western American Literature” was published from the beginning of the journal, Western American Literature, in 1966 until 2003. From 1967 until 1997, it appeared yearly in the winter (February) issue. From 1998 until 2003, the listings are posted online (see links below). No listings are available after 2003.

Following are the links to review the lists of the online years. Feel free to download them and print them out.

Research in Western American Literature—1997-98
Research in Western American Literature—1998-99
Research in Western American Literature—1999-2000
Research in Western American Literature—2000-01
Research in Western American Literature—2002
Research in Western American Literature—2003

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Bibliography of Studies in Western American Literature

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Western American Literature published a yearly bibliography of studies in western American literature from1966 until 2000. You can find the bibliographies pre–1998 in the winter issue of each year. The listings for 1998, 1999, 2000 are posted below. We have eliminated the paper copy. No bibliographies were compiled after 2000.

Following are the links to the lists of the online years. Feel free to download them and print them out.

Bibliography of Studies in Western American Literature: 1998
Bibliography of Studies in Western American Literature: 1999
Bibliography of Studies in Western American Literature: 2000


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  • Western Literature Association (WLA)

    Founded in 1965, the Western Literature Association (WLA) is a non-profit, scholarly association that promotes the study of the diverse literature and cultures of the North American West, past and present.

  • Western American Literature (WAL)

    (The Journal)

    Published by the Western Literature Association, Western American Literature is the leading journal in western American literary studies.

  • Black Lives Matter

    The Western Literature Association (WLA) is in solidarity with Black communities, after the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and the ongoing pattern of systemic racism and injustice that targets black and brown bodies. ...