Tag Archives: wild west

Ballad of the Vanishing West

sobrave The novel “So Brave, Young, and Handsome” by Leif Enger (author of “Peace Like a River”), is best described as a ballad of the vanishing Old West.  The novel is told from the eyes of an author who has penned a successful, but trite Western drama and is struggling to write a sequel.  To his horror, he discovers that he not only cannot write anything worth while, he feels as though he is a minor player in his own life: –“a man fading, a disappointer of persons.”  The author, Monte Becket, hooks up with an old boat builder, Glendon Hale, who has decided to make his way back to Mexico to apologize to the wife he abandoned two decades ago.  During the course of this “on the road” adventure, Monte Becket is tested in ways he never imagined, faced with the truth about Glendon Hale’s dark past, enduring the abusive treatment of a sadistic Pinkerton agent who’s after Hale, and the gritty reality of the American West.  In fact, the land itself is a major player in the tale, as Enger takes the reader through the dying Amercian West of 1915 — a time when the Wild West show known as the Hundred and One is also host to a silent movie set, a time when the main characters are just as likely to be traveling in a used Packard as they are by horseback, and when the measure of a man can be decided in the blink of a moment.  Enger treats us to a ballad that is as evocative as “The Cowboy’s Lament,” creating characters both sad and silly, and all together memorable.  In the end Monte Becket, described as having “lost his medicine,” is made whole again.  The novel has all the elements of the great cowboy stories: young desperadoes,  gun slingers, Pinkertons, sharp shooters,  horse traders, and train robbers, all set against a pure American of the verge of losing its innocence.

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Pioneering Spirit

ImageAfter finding this wonderful book, “Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West” by Dorothy Wickenden, I started to wonder if there were any experiences now-a-days which would compare to the one these girls took on in the very early twentieth century.  Two women, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood–Smith-educated women of society–answered an advertisement for a teaching job in the wilds of northwestern Colorado.  They made the treacherous journey there, risked physical harm from unfriendly inhabitants, disease, hardship, and the heartbreak of their young charges.  The stories of the lives of their pupils’ families are a vivid window into the past of the American West.  This book is chock full of interesting little facts of the past–the history of women’s colleges, the expansion of the mining towns, the background on the Utes tribe… But despite the interest in the mix, it sometimes makes for difficult reading.  I, and other readers, got bogged down in the shift of topic, especially in the critical first few chapters before our heroines set off on their journey.  I was just anxious for the adventure to begin, and was frustrated by the side-bars.  Nonetheless, it is a great story, all the more so because it features my favorite kind of hero: plucky young women who are bucking the system.  So, back to my original question: is there a “Wild Frontier” experience now, which would equate to what these women walked into?  I would love to hear your opinions!

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