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GREAT PLAINS by Ian Frazier

GREAT PLAINS

By Ian Frazier

ISBN: 374-21723-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In 1982, New Yorker essayist Frazier (Dating Your Mom, 1985; Nobody Better, Better than Nobody, 1987) moved to Montana, exploring the nearby Great Plains during subsequent summers. "That immense western short-grass prairie" so inspired him that he now sings its praises--and laments its decline--in a travelogue/history steeped in gentle humor and a bone-deep regard. What Frazier discovered in the 25,000 miles he logged over the plains was only a shadow of the Great Plains of his dreams ("enormous, bountiful, unfenced, empty of buildings, full of names and stories"). Although still a repository of wonder, today's Great Plains are also a font of destruction, home to the nation's nuclear arsenal (his visit to a missile silo in Montana forms a wry coda to this book)--a land sucked nearly dry by "progress." As Frazier roams the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska, and southwards, visiting points of interest--Sitting Bull's cabin; the Clutter house, made infamous in Capote's In Cold Blood, and a house visited by Bonnie and Clyde; a rock shop made of dinosaur bones; cattle ranches, strip-mined lands, state parks--his imagination stretches back to the Great Plains of the past, home of brave settlers and fur-trappers and Indians--Crazy Horse in particular. "When Crazy Horse was killed," he writes, "something more than a man's life was snuffed out"; thus, his eulogy in the form of a lengthy recapitulation of Crazy Horse's noble life and martyrdom. But Frazier is not without hope: at a town dance in Nicodemus, Kan. (pop. 50), settled and still populated mostly by blacks, he feels "a joy so strong it almost knocked me down"--a joy that links him with those Great Plains of his dreams, where "Crazy Horse will always remain uncaptured." A bit rambling, as befits the territory, but prime Americana as Frazier rides his way with style, wit, and honest emotion into the very soul of America's heartland. The Great Plains have found their new champion.