SEVEN RIVERS WEST by Edward Hoagland


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In a year of outstanding Western fiction (including Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove and Pete Dexter's Deadwood), Hoagland's contribution to the life and lore of the Old West is mainly scenic--wonderfully rich descriptions of the abundance of wildlife on the prairies and in the Rockies before the railroad cut a trench through them--but not strong on a sustained or highly developed plot or theme. The year is 1887, and Cecil Roop has come west from Boston to escape an airless marriage and to capture grizzlies for a circus act he wants to launch in imitation of his famous father. In Horse Swim, Neb., he meets and teams up with other white men keeping a step ahead of the approaching railroad: Sutton, a high-wire performer prospecting for gold; Roy, a one-armed trapper; and Charley, a grizzled, wily old settler who wants to return to his homestead in the mountains without being killed for his gold. With a team of horses, a pack of dogs and a couple of Indian women, the men set out to hunt and trap their way to the westernmost river in the Rockies, where gold, bears and game are reputed to be as thick as underbrush; but before they reach it, Roy and Sutton have died, and Cecil, a bemused Livingstone, has become distracted from his goal of catching grizzlies by rumors of Bigfoot in the mountains. The novel ends with Cecil disarmed and lost in a wilderness into which step the same prospectors for the railroad whom Cecil fled in chapter one; but now he is glad to see them, since their presence saves his life. The result of the novel's circular structure is to give the reader the impression of having taken a long stroll through a game park--disappointing to find that nothing could really happen to you here, but thrilling to encounter an almost perfect simulcrum of untamed and untouched life on the land.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1986
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster