Tales from America's Contemporary Frontier
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 Duncan's Out West (1987), which retraced the route of Lewis and Clark, took the author to some remote locales--but to nothing like the outposts of civilization that he reports on in this solid, well-informed survey of the 132 counties in the American West that have population densities of fewer than two people per square mile. Duncan calls these counties--which sprawl over 15 states, with the greatest number in Texas, Montana, and Nebraska--the ``contemporary frontier,'' and indeed there's an aura of rugged individualism about their scattered inhabitants that harkens back to the classic frontier. But there's also ``an undercurrent of paranoia,'' Duncan says, bred by a vulnerability to an ex-rural America that uses these regions as waste dumps, nuclear-missile sites, and so on. It's this sort of unsentimental, balanced view of his subjects, backdropped by an in-depth historical framework, that gives Duncan's travelogue its resonance (though he displays neither the wit of an Ian Frazier nor the poetry of a Gary Paulsen) as he describes the many months he spent traveling the territory in a GMC Suburban (``a station wagon on steroids'') that he christened the Conestoga. Typical of the counties is Nebraska's Banner County, with 1.1 people per square mile, whose businesses number a bank, two cafes, some home shops, and two hairdressers. Typical of the people the author met is the Texas UPS driver whose average day covered 338 miles in 12 hours--really just a Sunday drive in the American vastness that Duncan explores from myriad angles, covering ethnic groups (many Native Americans, few blacks); environment (harsh); crime (low); politics (often libertarian); death (often violent); grit and courage (endemic), and on and on. Sharply observed, literate travel writing that drives home just how big--and big-souled--this country really is. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs, one map--not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83195-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993


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