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Will the McKenzie Bar V Ranch in Wyoming--which has weathered drought, sodbusters, and sheepherders--sell its cattle herd and fade into the maw of the big-money, strip-mining Titanic Coal Company and leave the Plains a disaster area? That's the familiar question in this derivative but lively first novel about old Western values giving way to new. The brothers who face this quandary are Mike and Jimbo McKenzie--both of whom are haunted by memories of vinegary, tale-spinning grandfather Papa Vic, who died of a riding accident while moving the herd and was totally opposed to change. (He requested that his ashes be scattered into the grain and fed to the herd.) So, though Eastern-educated Jimbo is forward-looking, older brother Mike turns down Titanic Coal's $7-million sale offer and their offer to pay for taking core samples. Then, however, the state, via eminent domain, demonstrates the richness of the coal potential on McKenzie land--and community pressure mounts on Mike to give in (especially since beef prices are dropping and Mike refuses to go along when other cattlemen want to slaughter calves to keep prices up). Soon the McKenzie calves get shot in the night; emotions around the house are stormy (Jimbo falls for Mike's wife Avelyn); a prize riding horse is crippled; credit fades at the stores. And then, with a court order, Titanic begins mining--and at last Mike is killed while blowing up the mine's huge crane. Will Jimbo accept Titanic's offer? He fills with the McKenzie grit and tells Titanic, ""Go shit in your hat."" A plot that Zane Grey would have found serviceable (and probably did)--but the humor and horseplay and knotty tensions give a welcome lift, with fine domestic detail and a good chapter on winter calving.

Pub Date: July 31st, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown