“The severities of pioneer life yield up no Prousts,” novelist McMurtry observes in his terse introduction to this varied gathering of short fiction by contemporary writers who “at one point or another in their careers have taken as their subject life in the American West.” His point about pioneer life is that until recently most of those who wrote about the West were outsiders, not the native-born, and they wrote about a West filtered through their romantic or ideological notions of what it was. Not until the 1950s did significant numbers of writers, either born in the West or longtime residents, begin to deal with its complex history and somewhat grim present. Wallace Stegner, a founding father of the modern western tradition, is necessarily present (“Buglesong”). Some of the other choices are also necessary if unsurprising: Tom McGuane (“Dogs”); Richard Ford (“Rock Springs”); and William H. Gass (a classic tale, “The Pedersen Kid”). William Hauptman (the wonderful “Good Rockin’ Tonight”), Rick Bass (“Mahatma Joe,” one of his most precise and effective stories), Annie Proulx (“Brokeback Mountain”), and Raymond Carver (“The Third Thing That Killed My Father”) are among the other well-known figures here. Dagoberto Gilb, Louise Erdrich, and Leslie Marmon Silko stand in as representatives of the upsurge in western fiction being produced by Hispanic and Native American writers. And several less well-known authors (Dave Hickey, Mark Jude Poirier, and Jon Bllman) indicate the still-vibrant nature of the tradition.
A useful survey, and a nicely varied compendium of vigorous tales.