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GOING BACK TO BISBEE by Richard Shelton


by Richard Shelton

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8165-1302-3
Publisher: Univ. of Arizona

 Poet-professor Shelton (English/Univ. of Arizona) offers his first full-length prose work--and it's cause for celebration. Enlivening his picaresque narrative with vivacity, humor, and an eye for significant detail, he proves to be a splendid traveling companion. Shelton frames his narrative with an 80-mile drive from his Tucson home to the Arizona mining town of Bisbee, where he began his marriage, his family, his career, and his enduring love affair with the southwestern desert. Along the way, he recalls the violent history of this long-isolated border area and reminisces about his life as a army draftee during the 50's and colorful friends and acquaintances--like the pair of bashful students whom he taught and later found working as prostitutes in a small Mexican town, and the crusty fellow teacher whose foul vocabulary blistered her colleagues' eardrums. Shelton is equally adept at evoking the landscape along his route--thunderheads like ``great white cathedrals,'' stands of scarlet-blossomed ocotillo, moldering ghost towns, and cottonwood-shaded streams. He confesses his affection for tarantulas and his puzzlement about just who is responsible for the vaguely ludicrous names given to bird species. There's a hilarious description of hundreds of jackrabbits devouring a prison lawn, and an admiring tribute to 80-year-old Ida Power, who, jaunty beret on head and feet firmly on the ground, led a drive to turn Bisbee from a dying company town into a vigorous arts center. As the odometer creeps forward, it becomes clear that Shelton's trip to Bisbee has assumed metaphorical meaning--that he is trying to return to the past and his youth. He handles this second level lightly, never lapsing into pretentiousness or excessive symbolism. Shelton's literary touch is sure, and he seemingly achieves his effects--nostalgic, witty, inspirational--with little effort. A delightful American companion piece to Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence.