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Reviews 75 Track of the Giant. By Will Baker. (New York: Doubleday, 1990. 216 pages, $14.95.) The diversity of Will Baker’swriting has probably helped him elude critical attention, but he has enough books on the shelf now to qualify him for serious attention. His chapbook Dawn Stone: An Antediluvian Tale (1975) was followed by his first novel, Chip (1979). A mystery western set in a small town in Idaho (Baker’s home state), Chip is similar in texture to A. B. Guthrie’s detective westerns, and it has a narrative point ofview similar to that in Shane. After A Little Lady-Killing, a mystery under the pseudonym Victoria Webb, came Backward (1983), a study of remote Indians in Peru, sponsored by a Fulbright grant. A second nonfiction book, a collection of essays entitled Mountain Blood (1986), won the University of Georgia Press award for creative non-fiction. Then came Track of the Giant, which won second place in the annual Western Writers of America Spur contest for Best Western Novel. An experimental Western novel is yet to find a publisher, a Western science fiction novel is in progress, and two collections of short stories are scheduled for publication. Amidst this rogues’ gallery of productions, Track of the Giant is a bit of a rogue Western, even though it is published in the Doubleday line. The story revolves around the adventures ofWillard Starkwether Evans, a Harvard paleon­ tologist, who goes to Idaho territory in hopes of bringing back the head of Nampuh, a legendary Indian outlaw giant of the Owyhee Mountains. Captured by Nampuh’s gang, Willard lives the outlaw life and undergoes the conventional testing of the eastern tenderfoot in the western landscape. Part of the story is narrated through hisjournal, in a pleasant nineteenth-century style that carries an ironic undertone, as when he agonizes over having succumbed to “drunken lust”with a “lewd savage”—a more restrained narration thanJack Crabb’s, but a fit companion. He also kills two enemies (Anglos), goes through the Indian initiation rite, and reaches a credible level of understanding with Nampuh. Along the way he measures the outlaws’skulls, takes photos of the fabled giant, discovers a “growing kernel of sympathy for these depraved natives,”and comes “to understand something of the beauty and strangeness of the cruel world they inhabited.”Beginning in pursuit of “rational mastery of the universe,”he learns that “science does not, cannot give a full account of things.” Interspersed with Willard’s narration are the narrative strands of other characters—Mandrake Stoneman, robber baron, attempting to control the silver and copper markets, and hoping to breed a labor force of docile giants; the Finn, his hit man; Lydia, Willard’s fiancée, who journeys to Idaho to find him but is captured and held, languishing and drugged, in Mama’s brothel; Professors Braddock and Baum, Lydia’s father and Willard’s mentor, respec­ tively; and PeeWee Sullivan, grizzled frontiersman and greybearded sidekick, whose nickname may be explicated in a very funny scene with one of Mama’s gals. 76 Western American Literature The plotting is complicated and conventional, with the separated lovers, the rich, evil mastermind, the legendary giant, and the timely arrival of the troops. Indeed, Baker seems to enjoy working within the boundaries of the established form. At the same time, he pushes against the traditional leanings of the genre; rather than invoke the broadly-shared values of the mass reader, he questions the merits of progress, civilization, science, and leisured theory. This novel is fun to read, and it has honest implications. Throughout the narrative, the writing is crisp and the historical material is gracefully incorporated. This is a smoothly written piece of historical fiction, but it is not likely to be followed by anotherjust like it. Having succeeded, Will Baker has moved on to his next challenge. He will probably continue to be an interesting writer to follow. JOHN D. NESBITT Eastern Wyoming College Bones. By Franklin Fisher (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990. 245 pages, $17.95.) Bones is an outrageously funny, elegantly crafted first novel by Franklin Fisher, an associate professor of English at the University of Utah...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 75-76
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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