Louis Owens: Literary Reflections on His Life and Work constructs close readings of Owens's fiction and nonfiction that allow the reader to see Owens as more than an author and literary critic. Through the text's sharp literary analyses and revelation of Owens's life outside of his writing, the reader gains an acute understanding of the rationale behind Owens's literature and criticism. Each essay develops connections between the other texts within this work and, rather than merely repeating or reiterating basic ideas from each essay, these connections serve to build on each other, bringing the reader to new and different understandings of Owens's work.
Beginning and ending with highly personalized texts, including a poem dedicated to Owens,this text constructs a foundation that gives readers the feeling that they have come to know Owens on a more personal level. In the opening poem, "5 Canadas," Neil Harrison writes of when he and his brother saw five Canadian geese as they were out hunting. The final image of the poem, where Harrison describes himself and his brother as "carrying guns / my brother and I thirteen and eleven / would it mean more / or less to you" (19) echoes an image in the interview that follows where Owens discusses the times he and his brother spent countless hours in the woods hunting (26). In this interview with A. Robert Lee, "Outside Shadow," the last interview that Owens gave before his death in 2002, the reader learns what it was like for Owens to grow up poor in Mississippi and California and then move on to finally achieve a Ph.D. in English. Like the voice of a ghost, Owens shares intimate knowledge about himself, his family, and his life. Between these two pieces, the reader comes to understand Owens and his connection to the wilderness as well as to his family. For Owens, as for Harrison, feeling a connection with the land and nature provides a sense of home. Understanding this connection between the wilderness and home for Owens is essential; as readers move through this text, they are confronted with the significant role nature plays in Owens's writings.
The last essay in this text, Jesse Peters's "You Got to Fish Ever Goddamn Day," develops on this sense of the personal by sharing an [End Page 225] account of a fishing trip the author and Owens took together. In this piece, we not only see a sharp theoretical analysis of Owens's I Hear the Train but we also get to know Owens more as a person. We see his love for his friends as well as the wilderness as he jokes around with his fishing partners. Peters's essay cleverly intertwines story and literary analysis, highlighting the significance of story within Owens's work. Peters writes that Owens "rejects the ease of essentialism and stereotype and instead chooses the creation of narrative, the act that gives self and life meaning, over and over again" (238). And that is what Peters does as well. By connecting an episode from Owens's life to his theoretical work (work that, as Peters elucidates, "challenges us to resist metanarratives" ), Peters gives meaning to even the simplest of activities: fishing. He argues that for Owens, "frontier space," whether it be the natural world or the textual one, "has never been about certainty, and if one truly wants to understand who he or she is, then that person must be willing to explore, to hunt, not just between the lines, but beyond them" (241). In making similar connections between real life and literature, Peters moves beyond the lines and emphasizes the relevance of Owens's work to the real world.
The personal connections Lee and Peters make with Owens become crucial as the reader explores pieces such as Renny Christopher's "Louis Owens's Representations of Working-Class Consciousness." In this analysis of multiple texts, Christopher expands on Lee's interview where Owens recounts what it was like growing up in a poor, working-class family...