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Reviews 71 Ireland thinks he can just walk into a culture hundreds of years old and whine about being a stranger. When the willows by the river die of disease, he solemnly clears them and burns them because “they were a reminder ... of the unhealthiness in me, all those feelings ofwaste and failure that accumulate over the winter and have to be cleared away—buried, drowned, or burned—before there can be forgiveness and a starting over again.”At the center of the book is his account of stealing a magpie hatchling, raising it, and finally accidentally killing it in the door of his pickup. Stealing it bothers him only slightly: “I want so badly to regain my place as an inhabitant of the natural world—to prove that I belong in spite of my membership in the human species. But I’m a habitual outsider yet.” Beneath these well-crafted essays,journal pieces, and fiction is a story about Ireland being left by his wife and becoming a father alone with a young child, but what we read are the reverberations of that story. Ireland uses this place, the birds and water and people here, to show how we distract ourselves from our existence by thinking about it, how we hide in these thoughts, and how we make art out of that. ZITA INGHAM Arkansas State University Playing Cowboys: Low Culture and High Art in the Western. By Robert Murray Davis. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992. 154 pages, $19.95.) In Playing Cowboys, Robert Murray Davis has welded together a collection of essays that deal with the various ways in which authors have developed the western myth. Davis begins with aworkmanlike discussion of The Virginian, and three OakleyHall novels. He then fleshes out his exploration by examining how writers have blended elements of the gothic and science fiction with the West­ ern genre, and ends with a strong chapter on postmodern Westerns. “The Virginian: Inventing the Westerner”focuses mainly on the themes of manhood and gender relations; if one is teaching the novel, the chapter would be useful in generating classroom discussion about these topics. The chapter on Oakley Hall, “Reinventing the Westerner,” is less successful; the synopsis and subsequent analysis of Warlock, TheBad Lands, and Apaches may be confusing to a reader unfamiliar with Hall’s trilogy. Davis attempts to discuss too many characters in too short a space, but he does make several thoughtful points about the use of myth and history. Chapters three and four, “Gothic Space and the Disintegration of the Hero”and “Playing with Cowboys: Science Fiction Westerns,”serve to introduce the reader to the various ways writers have successfully and unsuccessfully attempted to meld Westerns with the gothic and science fiction modes. Begin­ ning with a brief discussion of the functions of space in fiction, Davis considers 72 WesternAmerican Literature Richard Brautigan’s The Hawkline Monster, E. L. Doctorow’s Welcome to Hard Times,John Hawkes’ TheBeetleLeg, and Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid as gothic Westerns. In his analysis of these, Davis is strongest on Brautigan and Hawkes; Ondaatje’s work seems too complex to be adequately dealt with in afew pages, and while Davis objects to Doctorow’s “bad version”of the West, he does not explain his objections clearly enough. But this chapter, as well as the one on science fiction Westerns, would be useful to a reader unfamiliar with these forms. (One note:Jack Schaefer’s name is misspelled on page 79.) With an excellent discussion ofMel Brooks’BlazingSaddleshighlighting the final chapter, “The Reader as Cowboy: Postmodern Westerns,” Davis ends the book strongly. Overall, Playing Cowboys can be recommended for bringing together material on a variety of seemingly incongruous types of Westerns. CANDYKLASCHUS University ofHartford Desert, Garden, Margin, Range: Literature on the American Frontier. Edited by Eric Heyne. (New York: Twayne, 1992. 182 pages, $25.95/$12.95.) The ten essays of Desertexamine the variety of ways in which literature has explored the frontier. The first five selections discuss traditionally canonical works by such writers as Cooper, Hawthorne, and Sandoz, while the second set of five concentrates on marginalized texts by Chicano, Native American...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 71-72
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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