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78 Western American Literature nor expatriate, unable to go home again yet still entrapped by the sentimental values of the WASP society into which he was born. It is not, ultimately, the three Harpies upon whom his search for freedom has exercised and ex­ posed his masculinity who destroy him but the inept crudities of the untouched mistress who represents—and emasculates—his romantic ideal. Finally, as if the book were a kind of deliberate arrangement of the mounting intensities of division, “The Last Spade in the West” concentrates on a lone Negro, the descendant of the original explorer York, so alien he must reject even the Indian whose race he may also partake of, so much a victim of contemporary ironies he is about to be chosen Man of the Year by the local Kiwanis Club while he remains invisible to the society which presents the award. What sustains this story is the black comedy of his struggle to maintain his precarious respectability against a torrent of wildly improbably confrontations—an Indian whore, a homosexual musician, a drunken gigolo, and his aged girl—each a symbol of the taboos that wall him out, each therefore capable of totally destroying him in spite of his perceptive contempt. Against this ultimate alienation Ned York becomes the ironic reality never recognized beneath the contemporary myths of Western society, believing his own myth of possession while his own image is the ultimate denial of all that the frontier is supposed to mean. In the final scene, dressed like a cowpoke along with a “beatnik from the East, a little sheeny with a shoeclerk ’s mustache, a big fat queer who’d struck it rich,” this “spade” stands a pallbearer on a theater stage to a vaudeville actress who has died the aristocrat of this Western society. It is almost pure black comedy, devised not just to expose the phoniness of the myth of the West but to include it in the masked and costumed world of the rest of mankind. Thus, quite apart from other critical judgments, The Last Jew in America represents a significant change in Western literature: the recognition in it of the same black dilemmas in the West which terrify the rest of the world; and thus, finally, a drift away from the worship of the non-existent past and from the happy optimism of its transcendental unrealities. Perhaps, if works like this are continued, there will be a new type of western literature of which the West can be proud. J ohn Barsness, Montana State University The Short Novels of Jack Schaefer. Introduction by Dorothy M. Johnson. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967. x + 525 pages, $6.95.) In 1953, following the astounding success of his first novel, Shane, Jack Reviews 79 Schaefer faced an artistic crisis: “The film version of Shane had recently been released and was running up records,” he explained in a recent letter, “and movie and television outfits were chasing me with all kinds of propositions. Publishers were in on it too (have been ever since) with high priced sug­ gestions for sequels to Shane.” Schaefer’s response was to write The Canyon “in the serene assurance that it would be no commercial success.” As he predicted, The Canyon was not a best-seller, yet it remains among the finest short novels in recent American fiction, a critical success here and abroad. And it clearly exemplifies Schaefer’s belief that first-rate literature can be created from western materials. The excellent collection considered here contains not only Shane, which makes its fifty-eighth appearance in print in this volume, and The Canyon, but also three lesser-known of Schaefer’s works: First Blood, Company of Cowards, and Kean Land. All are first-rate yarns, strongly developed and showing the author’s ability to sketch the complex activity of people on the frontier without open recourse to melodrama. All, with the possible exception of Shane, might well have been drawn in some other region at some other time, for they are deeply personal stories set in, and altered by, the West. Yet it is a mark of Schaefer’s unique artistry that once these seemingly universal tales...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 78-80
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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