BAD LAND

AN AMERICAN ROMANCE

As seen in the punning title, travel writer Raban (Hunting Mister Heartbreak: A Discovery of America, 1991, etc.) adds a second, more sinister meaning to the legendary Montana-Dakota stretch of the Great Plains. Raban focuses on the town of Ismay, Mont., and its role in a seldom-discussed chapter of the modern American West. Ismay's settlers were lured by the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, by misleading advertising by railroad companies, and by pseudoscientific claims about the benefits of dry-land farming. Before long, however, this inhospitable land had wrecked the hopes of these latter-day homesteaders. Instead of the American Eden they were promised, they encountered something more akin to the Egyptian plagues: subzero winter temperatures, dust, dying cattle, large grasshoppers, and above all, scant rainfall. Raban skillfully evokes the landscape's stark immensity, which defeated the attempts of photographers who tried to transform it into a romantic panorama. As settlers gradually deserted Ismay, they left behind signs of their failure, so that when Raban passed through, ``for every surviving ranch, I passed a dozen ruined houses.'' Yet Ismay, conceived by advertising, still could not resist making a bundle off a promotion, as seen in a hilarious recounting of its attempt to recast itself as a tourist trap by renaming itself Joe, Montana, after the quarterback (who is neither native son nor resident). Ultimately, Raban produces a startling revision of traditional Western myth: not the hopeful cowboys and farmers so often found in children's school primers, but solitaries, religious zealots, and even sociopaths. In Randy Weaver, Theodore Kaczynski, and Timothy McVeigh, Raban discovers spiritual descendants of the homesteaders in ``their resentment of government, their notion of property rights, their harping on self-sufficiency, and self-defence, [and] in their sense of enraged Scriptural entitlement.'' A powerful, grim new slant on those who took the way west—and of the terrible consequences when their dreams curdled and died. (First serial to the New Yorker)

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44254-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1996

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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