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Reviews The American Western Novel. By James K. Folsom. (New Haven, College and University Press, 1966. 224 pages. $4.50.) For years, Westerners have objected to the unfair treatment of their books at the hands of Eastern reviewers and critics. Now we are faced with the ironies implicit in the process of reviewing Eastern studies of Western literature (several in the past year) and doing so in a Western journal. What is the Western critic and reviewer to do with this Eastern book which is so obviously an Eastern book. Shall he pan it, needle, provoke, or irritate it, dissolve, patch, or build it, hold it up for ridicule, or pat its back for a good try? Shall he take this opportunity to get even for the ridiculous review Time gave his friend’s book a decade ago? Shall he give quiet thanks that a few people are finally becoming interested in the implications of the Western novel, and so encourage the Eastern professor to continue his studies? Ideally, he should do all of these things, perhaps. But the problem is not entirely one of levity. The situation is complex. One wants to be terribly fair and just in a review under these circumstances, but he wonders if he can. For example, how will Mr. Folsom accept the reviewer’s note to himself on page sixty-seven? “In many respects, an elementary book, most of it obvious to a Westerner, yet stated somewhat tediously and condescendingly.” Clearly, this is not a nice remark to make in public. One must consider Folsom’s audience and, furthermore, the fact that he may quite honestly feel that he is the only professor on the Eastern Seaboard who has read Western novels and is prepared to say something about that experience. Were he to visit the West, talk to its writers and its interpreters, read its own criticism and 298 Western American Literature discussions (not cited in his bibliographies), he would very likely cease to appear condescending and might well provide even more topics and sug­ gestions suitable for discussion. And so we retract our marginal comment. But where shall we go next in attempting a fair evaluation of this book? Its title, The American Western Novel, is far more comprehensive than the book bearing it, even though Mr. Folsom talks about a great many novels. For one thing, he is unclear about the kind of novel he is examining. He defines “Western novel” as those books which deal primarily with the trans-Mississippi West. Most of these novels, says he, are concerned with the Great Plains cattle industry. In an­ other attempt to define his subject, Folsom maintains that “Westerns” means the term as commonly used. (Reviewer’s italics.) Unfortunately, this tells us little, because “as commonly used” is not a trustworthy way of bringing an Eastern professor into contact with Western fiction—the so-called common understandings are considerably less than that. Mr. Folsom has put his own finger on one of the failings of his book (“Failings” unless, perhaps, his audience is limited to provincial Eastern Seaboarders ): “. . . I have left myself open to the charge of generalizing from insufficient material. For this and for perhaps too great reliance upon plot summary I must ask the reader’s indulgence.” Folsom does indeed rely far too heavily upon plot summary, except that we must remember once more that most of his audience may be entirely ignorant of the novels under dis­ cussion. This judgment assumes that the book will have little to say to knowledgeable readers. On the other charge, Folsom has omitted or had little to say about some of the major Western novelists. Of those he has included, the writers of “Westerns” are mingled freely and unhappily with the writers of the Western regional novel, or the writers of the novel in the West. There are differences; that is, these are significant distinctions; and Folsom has not found them. Treated in the book are Fenimore Cooper (a rather elementary and labored discussion with one or two valuable reminders), Conrad Richter and A. B. Guthrie (separated from one another in their chapter by brief looks at Clifford Sublette, Dorothy Gardiner, Susan Ertz...


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pp. 297-299
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