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The Editor’s Essay Review The West has seen some notable achievements in biography and in its related form, autobiography, including memoirs, reminiscences, diaries, nar­ ratives of exploration and adventure, and profiles of individuals and of whole peoples. I have been struck by the diversity of the books in this general category which have been published or re-issued recently. And the numbers of such books merely remind us that the urge to memorialize oneself is universal; and the fascination of probing to the core of some other human being (as Hawthorne knew) and portraying his motives, actions, and personality dra­ matically is as old as the absorbing biography of King David, which some Abiathar wrote about three milleniums ago. The Generous Years: Remembrances of a Frontier Boyhood. By Chet Huntley. (New York: Random House, Inc., 1968. 216 pages, drawings, $4.95.) Hamlin Garland’s Diaries. Edited by Donald Pizer. (San Marino: The Hunt­ ington Library, 1968. xiv + 281 pages, photograph, $7.50.) I never would have suspected that the urbane Chet Huntley of NBC News was born in a railroad depot in frontier Montana and spent his boyhood there on ranches and in mining and railroad towns. And I never would have supposed that one who has had to steep himself in the predominantly absurd human spectacle for the past two decades as a reporter could have maintained the balanced and good-humored faith in humanity that is reflected in The Generous Years. The book begins with an imaginative re-creation of his homestead life in “the immense boundless land” of northern Montana, newly opened to homesteaders in 1913, a treeless prairie which instilled in him “an abiding love of trees”. He was especially responsive to spring when the “world was renewing itself, and I wanted to seize upon it and hold it there, for fear, it might not occur again”. But he was aware also of the “brutal and soulcrushing struggle for survival” under the impact of “the grim, destructive tantrum of nature” with its “cruel surprises”. There are some nicely wrought touches of humor such as the account of sub-zero visits to the outhouse with its frost-covered seat. There is some 320 Western American Literature good social satire such as the anecdote about a “Mrs. Snyder”, that small town phenomenon “an overtime gossip”, a “self-appointed feminine chairman of everything”. There is an amusing gathering of Tom Sawyerish activities such as making rattlesnake bracelets, having gumbo mud battles, capturing a bank robber. The highlight of the book for me, however, is its quiet affirmation of his family, including his grandparents. It was a family of mutual respect and affection. Though they were virtually poverty-stricken, he never knew it at the time: “We had our simple pleasures”. They had an “unspoken and un­ written rule that adversity was not to be expatiated upon”. In The Generous Years Mr. Huntley has written a charming book about a kind of life I knew at the same time as a boy in Alberta a few miles north, and Wallace Stegner experienced something quite like it in Saskatchewan and portrayed it well in Wolfwillow. A few typographical errors have persisted in this second printing: "country” for “county”, p. 73; “despositing” for “de­ positing”, p. 68; “cacaphony” for “cacophony’, p. 84. The purist in me re­ quires that “Canadian goose”, p. 82, should be “Canada goose”. Mr. Pizer has organized Garland’s diary entries into two categories. The first 107 pages are Garland’s reflection on himself, his family, his psychic interests, and his literary work. After reading Part One, especially the section entitled “Reflections on Life and Career”, I am ready to nominate Garland as the most humorless man in American Literature. Even Jonathan Edwards was able to muster one witticism. His major refrain is a morbid running commentary on growing old, the relentless progress of his physical decay accompanied by the decline of his creative powers. Garland obviously in­ tended his diary to tell the literal sober truth about himself—there is not the slightest indication that he intended to entertain. He defends the inclusion of the many entries concerning his growing loneliness and decay: “these admissions by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 319-323
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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