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BOOK REVIEW S 3 8 7 paper accounts published, in certain cases, before all the survivors had arrived at Sutter’s. In some ways, his purported nonfiction is less reliable a history than Houston’s novel. But as is often the case in western novels, Houston’s meticu­ lously rendered setting at last steals the limelight from his plot as well as from his historical and fictional cast of characters. In one scene, Reed confronts the swollen Sacramento River, the surging confluence of all the creeks and rivers that channel water from the mountain ranges east and west to make the broad stream that divides the valley. . . . The Sacramento flows on south to the delta, and the Feather River is a brown flood pouring into the Sacramento, and the Bear River dumps into the Feather, spilling down out of the foothills. (252, 258) Bound for the high country, Reed and his fellow rescuers celebrate this vision of California’s world-class watershed by passing a bottle around the campfire. One man shows offa little wooden whistle he’sbought at Sutter’s Fort forhis entrapped baby daughter. Its “high plaintive penetrating call. .. drifts out across the puddle marshlands,” and the men around the campfire, “embarrassed by this naked show of sentiment!,] • • • throw small sticks and tell him to sit down” (254-55). Houston’snovel isa welcome renovation ofthe Donner storytelling tradition, but its California canvas proves so vast that the Reed saga comes to resemble the sound of that thin whistle—a momentary “show of sentiment” in an indifferent and tragic country. How All This Started. By Pete Fromm. New York: Picador U S A , 2000. 305 pages, $23.00. Reviewed by O. Alan Weltzien University of Montana-W estern, Dillon Over the past decade, Great Falls, Montana, writer Pete Fromm has been gaining increasing attention and respect with his steady production of short sto­ ries. He has published five collections; additionally, he published Indian Creek Chronicles (1993), an autobiographical compilation which earned him his first Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Association Award. Now Fromm has published his first novel, for which he received his third Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Association Award. Fromm’s stock rises; in the second Montana Festival of the Book, held in Missoula in September 2001, he was one of the keynote evening readers, and he introduced the audience to his harrowing novel with select pas­ sages. To borrow the novel’s baseball subplot, Fromm has debuted solidly in the show, and in the process has ventured beyond the familiarity of Montana and the Northern Rockies by setting his novel in austere West Texas. I have read most ofFromm’s oeuvre and have always been struck byhis tight construction and his ability to evoke characters in depth through slight but sure 3 8 8 WAL 3 7 .3 F a l l 2 0 0 2 hints. How All This Started first appeared as a short story of the same title in his most recent collection, Night Swimming (1999). Clearly, Fromm was not done with his protagonist, the tough and troubled teenager Abilene Scheer. In the short story, Abilene drags her half-willing younger brother, Austin, along in her tmck to shoot birds at a drainage near their isolated West Texas home. Elsewhere Fromm has mentioned that the scene of indiscriminate bird shooting, likening Abilene to a gluttonous “sportsman” fromthe 1880s, originated from a job in Big Bend National Park, where his supervisor directed him to float the Rio and shoot “unwanted” birds. He has also admitted that Abilene obsessed him for a few sea­ sons, and now she haunts the reader, gripped as she is by bipolar disorder. How All This Started is narrated by Austin, the idolizing younger brother, who never quits defending his sister and who seems rather obtuse as a result. Austin remains a captive of close sibling love, and insofar as I have any criticism of the novel, it concerns the narrator’s inability for critical detachment. The teenagers pit themselves, as is always the case, against the parents, Clayton and Ruby, and the point of view stays with them though Fromm sympathizes acutely with all family members, who struggle to cope withAbilene...


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