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Reviews North of Yesterday, By Robert Flynn (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1967. 338 pages, $5.95.) In recent years a number of novels have come along which more or less successfully satirize the various romantic legends of the frontier. The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters was, I think, one of the more successful instances, in spite of its imitative style and form; the more recent Little Big Man was one of the not so very successful ones, in spite of its popularity. All of the recent attempts have, however, represented a badly needed attack on some firmly entrenched and usually distorting legends. The latest entry in this group of novels is a first one by Robert Flynn, entitled North to Yesterday. Mr. Flynn chooses not the Oregon-California Trail nor the Western scout as his subject, but rather the Texas trail-drovers. His plot is simple and Quixotic: a storekeeper who has always dreamed of going up the trail decides to do so, fifteen years after the trail has closed. The novel is the tale of how his ragtag crew of misfits, with their anachronistic herd of longhorns, get to their ultimate goal, the town of Trail’s End. Along the way, Mr. Flynn sends them through a series of sometimes uproariously funny adventures which, while never dislodging the myth itself, bravely and righteously lampoon those who still believe in that heroic interpretation of the Western frontier. I think maybe Mr. Flynn loves the myth too much to attempt to destroy it; he savors every bit of authentic flavor he can insert into the novel, and never fails to prove the accuracy of his historical topography; ultimately he regrets, in spite of his talent, the passing of those grand old days. I am not sure one should be that devoted to the past, unless, to paraphrase William 236 Western American Literature Faulkner, he is devoted to it in the same way he hates his wife; that is, loving it enough to lose his illusions about it. Mr. Flynn may have lost his illusions about the contemporary supporters of the myth; but I am not sure he has yet quite moved out of their ranks himself. The central character of his novel is Marvin Dorsey, otherwise Lampassas, who was married by a determined young Texas girl before he ever got the chance to follow a herd up the trail. After twenty years of storekeeping and listening to every drifter’s tale of adventure on the trail, he is finally freed of his wife, and, possessed of a reluctant son, he gathers around him a wildly assorted crew, rounds up a herd of longhorns, and heads north. The trail is closed; the great days of trailing have been over for fifteen years; but Lampassas is determined to reach Trail’s End, the railroad town where he will sell his herd and return to Texas triumphant. In different ways, each of his crew is possessed of the same sort of anachronistic dream, and each dream, in Mr. Flynn’s terms, is a part of the modern Westerner’s ridiculous image of the frontier past. Jake Johnson, The Preacher, reckons it his duty to save the wicked souls of the sin-ridden city of Trail’s End; surnameless June intends his name to live as one of the great gunmen of all time, though he has yet to hit anything with his ancient sixgun ; Jervis Applewhite, alias Pretty Shadow, the only one among them to have gone up the trail, intends to fulfill his fifteen-year-old promise to marry Diamond Annie, prettiest whore in Trail’s End. Gattis McCullough, the Georgia cracker, just wants out of his previous red-dirt existence. All of them, then, illustrate various components of the cowboy as he was, at least, rep­ resented; and all of them concentrate the ultimate chivalric code of the cow­ boy myth in their gentlemanly treatment of the runaway girl Covina, with her bastard baby and her profant, eliminatory tongue. Only the Kid, son of Lampassas, is indifferent to this dumb ideal; his wish is only to work on the railroad, the machine in the garden, and go whizzing down miles of endless...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 235-237
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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