A well-crafted biography of the western writer.
Grey (1872–1939) made his considerable fortune on sturdy tales of the Wild West, tales with an uncomplicated vision of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Continuing the study he began with Zane Grey (1997), literary scholar May reveals that Grey’s own life was considerably more tangled. From the Mormons (whom he portrayed as villains in Riders of the Purple Sage), he acquired a hankering to take up polygamy—a notion that his ever-tolerant wife Dolly finally quashed. From tales of boyhood heroes, like Daniel Boone, he nurtured a profound wanderlust, and he was given to leaving Dolly to manage his business affairs while he wandered off to sail the South Seas or fish the streams of Alaska—and spending so much on his adventures that he came close to bankruptcy more than once. More positively, writes May, Grey was an outdoorsman and athlete par excellence, a “freshwater fisherman, baseball pitcher, explorer, nature lover, sailor, adventurer, [and] saltwater angler,” to say nothing of an extraordinarily prolific and competent writer. For many years, like his hero Theodore Roosevelt, he filled the role of the macho man of letters, a role that would be usurped by Grey’s later contemporary Ernest Hemingway. (Hemingway, the author reveals, rebuffed Grey’s repeated invitations to go deep-sea fishing, fearing “that Grey might take the opportunity to cash in on Hemingway’s popularity.”) Though he is best known for his Western novels, May suggests that Grey deserves critical recognition as an outstanding interpreter of the outdoors and as something of a proto-environmentalist, instead of being shelved as a minor genre writer. His argument in this regard is entirely convincing, backed with ample quotations from Grey’s published writings and unpublished journals.
A fine job: May’s attentions may well inspire new interest in Grey’s largely forgotten work.