MR. WAHLQUIST IN YELLOWSTONE And Other Stories by Douglas H. Thayer


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Five long stories, mostly about hunting men or solitaries who are ill at ease in family and society. All take place in the West: four are roughly contemporary, while one is a more traditional western, but all five render a harsh landscape where humans at best survive. ""The Red. Tailed Hawk,"" effectively atmospheric, is about an alienated boy who goes hunting for geese near Christmas and encounters a blizzard. His ordeal serves as a subtle initiation ceremony: by story's end, the boy is just a bit more human. ""The Rooster"" centers on another hunter who leaves his marriage bed to hunt the bottoms (""Marrying too early ruined a man""). He bags his rooster and, after a tiresome barroom scene, returns home with a gift for his wife and acts out a familiar ritual before approaching her in bed. Again, Thayer is skillful at using place to develop character. The title story, narrated by a seasonal ranger, involves the search for his mentor, Mr. Wahlquist, a regular at Yellowstone and a fount of lore. After a tiresomely descriptive tour of the park and a number of flashbacks, the ranger finds the old man dead, the result of a self-devised ritual. ""The Gold Mine"" is rather too long but is successfully understated. The only story with a female protagonist, it concerns the disposition of a boy killed hunting gold; Mrs. Miller is a sort of earth mother who takes care of everything and ruminates on the inhospitableness of the desert. ""Dolf,"" the last piece, is about a New-Englander-turned-trapper whose partner is killed by Indians before the story begins; via chase scenes and flashbacks, Thayer contrives an edge-of-your-seat thriller that ends in a blood-match between Dolf and a Blackfoot warrior who kills him. Like the poet Robinson Jeffers, Thayer is interested primarily in hawks and rocks, and in how nature tests men (and, occasionally, a woman). His book is notable on those terms.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Gibbs Smith