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70 Western American Literature The Telling Distance: Conversations with the American Desert. By Bruce Berger. (Portland, Oregon: Breitenbush Books, 1990. vii + 243 pages, $19.95.) Not quite conversations, not quite meditations, not quite essays: “vignettes of the American desert” is the better subtitle for this collection. Bruce Berger sometimes achieves great moments of brilliance in evoking the mystery and harshness of the southwestern landscape, with fine turns of phrase and prickly witticisms: “Squaw Peak, on the fringes of downtown Phoenix, is the kind of slag heap most mountaineers, not to mention other mountains, look down on.” Just as often, Berger’s prose sinks into New Age banality, mostly when he tries most self-consciously to scale the rhetorical heights: “That is the revelation of desert sunsets: that the distance is unmoored, so delicious, that you want to be there, to become that distance.” The uneven quality of Berger’s book (which won a 1990 Western States Book Award) is jarring and altogether unfortunate, for Bruce Berger is clearly a writer of serious intent and much promise. GREGORY McNAMEE Tucson, Arizona This is About Vision: Interviews with Southwestern Writers. Edited by John F. Crawford, William Balassi, and Annie O. Eysturoy. (Albuquerque: Uni­ versity of New Mexico Press, 1990. 202 pages, $29.95/$15.95.) This is About Vision is an interesting but uneven mixture of useful com­ mentary by some of southwestern writing’s clearest and most committed voices —all brought together to examine the concept of “Spirit of Place” and “the effect landscape has upon art and the artist.” Toward that end, editors Crawford, Balassi, and Eysturoy have assembled a collection of brief interviews with sixteen writers who have made the Southwest the focal point of much or all of their work. However, as the reader soon sees and as Crawford quickly points out, the writers interviewed responded in terms of “another sense of ‘place’ altogether,” addressing instead the feeling “that ‘place’was internalized in each of them” providing the spiritual and artistic bases for their writing. This is an ambitious undertaking—and a risky one. The numbers them­ selves are problematic. To begin with, there are far too many interviewers, thirteen to be exact. Factor that number by the sixteen writers and the result is a formidable tangle of variables in terms of personalities as well as questions and answers. Then, too, there are the trade-offs of depth for breadth and of a unified, sustained point of view for multiple perspectives. In this regard, This is About Vision is a long way from, say, Richard Etulain’s Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature, which opts for the deep and narrow. Still, Vision is certainly worth reading for a number of reasons. For one, it contains one of the last interviews with Edward Abbey. Secondly, the book’s organization is as logical as it is interesting; the interviews are arranged accord­ Reviews 71 ing to the writers’ birthdates beginning with the venerable Frank Waters and concluding with the ebullient Luci Tapahanso, a half century his junior. More importantly, Vision includes discussions with a number of emerging non-Anglo writers such as Pat Mora, Denise Chavez, Joy Harjo, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Tapahanso. Since much of southwestern literature comes from the ethnic traditions of los mexicanos and los indios as well as mixtures thereof, their observations here are essential, illuminating, and long overdue. True, some readers may object to the editors’ apparent social decision to include Margaret Randall; her sanctimonious posturings should wear thin in short order. Others will surely question the conspicuous absence of a number of gifted writers. But on the whole, This is About Vision sheds light on a number of important regional, national, and even global issues. And that, after all, is what literature is all about. BILL D. TO TH Victor Valley College Of Chiles, Cacti, and Fighting Cocks: Notes on the American West. By Fred­ erick Turner. (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990. 200 pages, $19.95.) A footloose Turner takes us on a tour of the American West. He gives us a chapter on Billy the Kid, on the history and cuisine of chile, on wild horses eating the grass...


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