THE BASQUE HOTEL by Robert Laxalt


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Nevadan novelist Laxalt (Sweet Promised Land, 1957; A Man in the Wheatfield, 1964; etc.) here pens a Depression-era remembrance about immigrant parents who run a boardinghouse. Structured seasonally, the story details life in Carson City, Nevada (the smallest capital in the US), and its environs through the eyes of the boy Pete. After a pedestrian tour of the town and its haunts and a host of character sketches (Buckshot, the town drunk; Tristant, the Basque sheepherder; Ned, the slow-witted singer; a fulsome senator who visits and gives a speech), autumn arrives, along with school and, come winter, a storm that comes up while Pete is exploring a canyon in a Yukon fantasy. He gets rheumatic fever as a consequence: ""He will not be able to play at sports with the other boys because he cannot be allowed to run. And if he lives that long, he will be only half a man."" The rest of the narrative concerns Pete's recovery and his parents' decision to sell the hotel (too much trouble with the stem-faced enforcers of Prohibition). Pete goes with his father, who is running sheep, on a mountain trip and recovers fully, managing in the next school year to overcome his medical diagnosis with Helen (""when it was over, he lay spent between her thighs""). After the boy witnesses a bar-fight and earns some gift money by plucking wool from the carcasses of ewes, the hotel burns down--and Pete's childhood is over. A coming-of-age reminiscence that's distinct (if programmatic) and vivid in its descriptions: a regional and ethnic exploration with an authentic feel to it.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1989
ISBN: 0874172160
Publisher: Univ. of Nevada Press