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74 Western American Literature On the Border: Portraits of America’s Southwestern Frontier. By Tom Miller. (New York: Harper & Row, 1981. 226 pages, $12.95.) Beginning at the Gulf Coast where the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo ends its long flow from the Colorado Rockies, Tom Miller and a photographer companion traveled the 2000 miles of the United States/Mexico Inter­ national Boundary west to the Pacific. For the four months the journey took, Miller sampled life and culture on both sides of the border. His conclusion, that the border is “a third country with its own identity,” is neither new, nor startling, nor even supported substantively by the isolated and illconnected anecdotes through which he represents the region. Strung together only by the slender thread of the Rio itself, the desert, and a trail of lottery tickets, Miller’s handful of fully-fleshed portraits of border dwellers and notorious incidents seems far better suited to the pages of the magazines for which he first wrote them than for a book purporting to illuminate the “day-to-day struggles and pleasures” of border residents. Certainly the book does not “capture the heritage and legends, the problems and people” of the area. His choice of subjects ranges from dope (and other) smuggling in Starr County, Texas to the infamous Hanigan trials in Arizona. One intermediate detour examines the career of Dr. John Brinkley, the goat gland practitioner, whose radio station XER at Del Rio, Texas was the first of the “borderblasters” inundating the American continent with music, medical advice, and mail order offers. Another digression searches for “Rosa’s Cantina” in El Paso, the tavern immortalized by Marty Robbins in his ballad. Between such inconsequential, though interesting, material, Miller has inserted connecting materials so flimsy and so typically turista that border residents will immediately recognize that a Norman Mailer/Ernest Heming­ way “macho writer” image has dominated Miller’s perceptions. Rather than drawing from the rich history and culture of the area, Miller talks to indi­ gents, visits Boys Towns (in border vernacular, red light districts), cantinas, cockfights and chili cookoffs, then goes home to paste together a manuscript that sporadically entertains, but rarely enlightens. This special place — the border — this region reminiscent of parts of Europe where national bound­ aries count for less than centuries-old ethnic identities, these people, who are all immigrants except for vestiges of Native Americans, this way of life, deserves more attention and a far more inclusive perspective. DOROTHY SCHMIDT, Pan American University ...


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