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78 Western American Literature series. Now an aged matriarch, she must endure a protracted battle in the courts over the legitimacy of the title to her ranch, watch her beloved sacred trees cut down by squatters, and accept the gradual estrangement of her older son. She is joined by a host of other historical figures, among them Lincoln, Seward, Grant, Sherman, and John Brown. Yet the novel does not focus exclusively on the famous. Easton’s common men and women—servants, domestics, slaves, Asian- and African-Americans, the “invisible” men and women—play an essential if heretofore unacknowledged role in shaping the course of American history. Easton’s narrative voice is conversational; he wants to tell his story, and he does so in a style that is deceptively simple. He introduces dozens of char­ acters, delineates their personalities and motives, and enmeshes them in the great web of ambition, struggle, and sacrifice that is social history without sacri­ ficing the momentum of his often melodramatic plot. His descriptions are sometimes stilted (“delicious odors of cooking emanated from the interior of the house” ) or banal (“[Sally was] a perky looking teen-age girl”), but his aim is not literary performance. He adroitly keeps in motion numerous char­ acters, and he understands implicitly the motives which propel the profiteers and power brokers as well as the dreams which fuel the altruists and activists. Easton evokes the evanescent old ways and traditions with care and respect, neither sentimental nor condescending. On the evidence of its first two vol­ umes, Easton’s “Saga of California” should be a lasting part of American historical literature. LLOYD BECKER Suffolk Community College A Gentleman’s Guide to the Frontier. By Joanne Meschery. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990. 351 pages, $19.95.) Joanne Meschery’s second novel is a guide to the westward course of empire in reverse. Two men, gentlemen in the modern sense of the word—sad, searching and sensitive—join forces to search for the past. Andrew Marsh, a recently widowed, white, middle-class Californian, joins Reg Vickers, an elderly black man who has lost his son and is searching for memories of his father Algernon Vickers, a “black white man,” who was born on a slave ship, raised in an English family, arrived in the English colony of Victoria on the plains of Kansas in 1873, lost his English foster brother in Custer’s last stand, befriended a Christian Indian, fell in love in the Exoduster town of Nicodemus, Kansas and travelled to Pine Ridge in time to kill his Indian friend during the tragedies of Wounded Knee. Driving east along the western highways in their semi-sized motor home, the Establishment, Reg and Marsh meet a young mother who sends her three-year-old daughter along with the old men while she looks for Welfare, encounter Marsh’s daughter-in-law, who is driving a Reviews 79 van with a stuffed grizzly in the back, and hook up with the SOARS, Singles on the American Roads, who trail along in their assorted mobile homes to listen to Reg’s nightly continuation of his father’s story. All of this must Mean Something: a black man and a white man travel east in the Establishment to find the Old West, SOARing across the range of frontier history. Meschery seems to have a check list of Frontier Facts—a guide, if you will—to refer to, but a reader unfamiliar with Mormon racial theories, the history of English, German, and black settlements in Kansas, and the final tragic scenario at Pine Ridge will have some difficulty piecing together the stories between the facts and keeping past and present separate. There are some funny scenes and others that are merely puzzling, gentlemanly and otherwise, and Reg’s guide to his father’s frontier is entertaining if highly unlikely, but the trip that goes on page after page is hardly worth the effort. DIANE DUFVA QUANTIC Wichita State University Skywater. By Melinda Worth Popham. (Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1990. 206 pages, $17.95.) For a good share of its pages, this novel places the reader in the conscious­ ness of a coyote. A part of its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 78-79
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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