GROWING UP WESTERN by Clarus--Ed. Backes


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Seven literary elders of the West evoke the sweeping landscapes from Arkansas to Saskatchewan of childhood on the ""belated frontier."" The West clearly shaped the fiction and nonfiction of these men (now all over 80): Dee Brown, A.B. Guthrie, Jr., Wright Morris, Clyde Rice, David Lavender, Wallace Stegner, and Frank Waters. As boys growing up with the century, they ran wild on prairie and mountain--jumping into swimming holes, shooting ducks, catching fish, swinging baseball bats. In towns, short on books and shaken by the boom or bust of gold, silver, and oil, they knew the West's mix of romance and extinction--Guthrie hears the ""clank of spurs"" on boardwalks, but also sees Indians scavenging the garbage for food. The punch of these spare stories is delivered by eyewitness details--not simply of place but of character--like Waters' Chinese yogi on the Mexican border who sold groceries, ""Chinese lottery tickets, and peddled cans of Rooster and Elephant-brand opium"" while smuggling Chinese to California. In a recurrent theme, they regret the plunder of what Lavender calls ""bonanza land."" ""What the West gave me,"" writes Stegner, is ""an acquaintance with the wild and wild creatures, and guilt for my part in their destruction."" These essays also speak of memory and the way that, as Rice observes, the mind can confuse events with folklore and photographs. Entwined in Morris' recollection of childhood is the mother he never saw. He tells a story his uncle told him of when she rode along a river sometimes shooting at ""the glass insulators on the telephone poles. If she hit one, the shards of the bottle-green glass would splatter all around, like water. I wasn't there, but I can see all of that just as if I were."" Sharp moments of realism--with a foreword by Larry McMurty and informative introductions by Backes (d. 1988; former book editor of the Denver Post)--from a West that continues to fade from view.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1989
Publisher: Knopf