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Reviews 87 Nevada, A History. By Robert Laxalt. (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1977. 146 pages, illus., $8.95.) Histories of Nevada have been written for both students and scholars, but until the publication of Robert Laxalt’s latest book, no history of Nevada had been written for the general reader. In fact, one hesitates to call Nevada a history book at all, since it is more an evocation of the state and its spirit than a chronicle of its life and times. Because Laxalt writes of those materials that interest him and not necessarily of those most significant historically, a student unfamiliar with basic Nevada events and dates may find this book puzzling. And because he includes no footnotes and omits many pertinent details, a scholar seeking facts and figures will be equally dissatisfied. Yet those very omissions will attract readers who want to absorb the spirit of the state, who want to smell the sagebrush, breathe the crisp desert air, and spin the wheel of fortune. For them Laxalt’s book is a treasure not soon to be forgotten. He opens with the sights and smells and sounds of the land, the endless desert vistas, the pungent tang of wet sagebrush, the characteristic voices of sheepherders and buckaroos. Then when his stage is set, he begins to narrate the development of the state, not by analyzing historical data but by intro­ ducing the people who made Nevada live. Explorers and settlers, folk heroes and miners, gangsters and politicians — John C. Fremont, Samuel Clemens, and Julia Bulette; Patrick McCarran, Bugsy Siegel, and Howard Hughes — the figures come and go on Laxalt’s pages, exploring the land, discovering gold and silver, forming the government of the fledgling state, and founding their own far-reaching empires. A profusion of anecdotes and details bombards the reader as Laxalt stresses the intimacy between what happened and who did it. Only in his handling of contemporary events does his tone grow more aloof. Chapters titled “The Sin State” and “The Day of the Hoodlum” suggest a twentiethcentury version of the Old West, replete with bad guys and good, good luck and bad. But although Laxalt’s disenchantment dominates his portrayal of Reno’s fame as a 1930’s divorce capital and Las Vegas’s renown as a 1970’s gambling mecca, his stories remain colorful and fascinating. Nevada, A History is part of a Bicentennial series, THE STATES AND THE NATION. Its general editor explains that each author was asked to write “a summing up — interpretive, sensitive, thoughtful, individual, even personal — of what seems significant about his or her state’s history.” Laxalt has done just that; has in fact, stretched the boundaries of the format into an imaginative work of art. Ironically, his poetic prose is more evocative of the Nevada scene than the somewhat disappointing collection of photographs that accompanies the text. His style and his sensitivity appear to this reviewer more illustrative and more creative than the stark black-and-white views of weather-beaten faces and decaying ghost towns, glittering neon signs and the famous Strip. Some strict historiographers may fault his work, 88 Western American Literature but history buffs are sure to love it, for Laxalt sees his state with an artist’s eye, and interprets it from an enthusiast’s point of view. ANN RONALD, University of Nevada, Reno Light Years. By J. M. Ferguson, Jr. (Phoenix: The Baleen Press, 1977. 52 pages, $3.50.) Joe Ferguson’s most recent book of poetry, Light Years, is characterized by poetic movement. The opening line of the first poem projects patterns that are reflected throughout the remainder of the book. Called “Three Seascapes,” this poem shows how Ferguson has indeed composed a book rather than compiled a collection of poems. The poem’s three part structure mirrors the book’s three sections. A three-part structure can in itself be deadly common. Happily, Ferguson’s structure goes somewhere. Selected epic overtones in Part I give way to temporal, almost mundane references to the American southwest in Part II. Utilizing references and imagery established in I and II, Part III then sends us into a world of light — the...


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pp. 87-88
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