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Reviews 81 exegesis. Part 2 is a small sampling of Saroyan’s work plus an interview and a traveler’s sketch of Armenia. Part 3 is a selection of critical work. Of particular interest is the essay, “The Time of William Saroyan’s Life” by Frederick I. Carpenter, which considers Saroyan as a California writer. In “The World of William Saroyan,” Nona Balakian views Saroyan’s style as a blending of the oral traditions of Armenia and the American West. And in ‘The Dark Side of Saroyan,”Harry Keyishian pleads for a more balanced view of the man who once wrote, “Don’t tell me I’m sentimental, you sons of bitches.” In spite of Saroyan’sonetime advice to “let the professorsjump in the river” it seems likely that he would have appreciated this book. And while a consensus of critical opinion may never match Saroyan’s own high estimation of hisworth, this book will be viewed by most Saroyan enthusiasts as a fair and timely appraisal of a body of shortfiction that continues to be readable, enjoyable and relevant. DANIEL BARTH Chico, California TheBestofthe West:An Anthology ofClassic Writingfrom theAmerican West. Edited by Tony Hillerman. (New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 528 pages, $25.00.) If the title of this volume seems familiar, it should. It is also the title of a collection published annually by Peregrine Smith. But one cannot copyright a title, and one cannot copyright an idea, however abstract. Thus, the superlative term “best” represents here precisely what it represents in the other “best” collections: editorial opinion. In this case, the opinion is held by that capable bastion of contemporary western fiction, Tony Hillerman; in many cases, it’s hard to quibble. Ranging from the journals of Meriwether Lewis to the humorous meanderings of C. L. Sonnichsen to the brilliant prose ofEdwardAbbey, the volume is organized into fifteen sections based on ethnic, thematic, and topical headings. Women, miners, Native Americans, cowboys, pioneers, and filibusterers are all here, along with healthy representation from plainsmen, mountain men, practical jokers, soldiers, and lawman and outlaws. The selections are, for the most part, short, designed for a quick read before lights out; the book would serve equally well as a text for any western literature course. What’s wrong with the book has more to do with concept than execution. Here, for example, are excerpts from Frank Norris, John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, Artemus Ward, Owen Wister, Stephen Crane and others, whose whole works are both accessible and preferable to reading a sampling of pages. Their presence here is annoying, especially when so many more contemporary west­ ern writers of lesser fame and literary status might have been included to round 82 WesternAmerican Literature out a full look atwestern writing, the best or otherwise. Hillerman even notes in his introduction that sins of omission include the lack of pieces by Larry McMurtry, Ross Calvin, Norman Zollinger, and Joan Didion, among others; mostwestern literature fans will think ofmore who should be here but aren’t. In any such collection, space is a premium; but do we need yet another reprint of such old chestnuts as Travis’s letter from the Alamo, or two equally unreadable selections fromJ. Frank Dobie, or another reiteration of ‘The Outcasts of Poker Flat?” Most readers will probably skip these and wish that Hillerman had included some selections to represent the “urban west,” those modern cityscapes of glass and steel and concrete, of big and busted business, criminal gangs, racial tensions, traffic snarls and metro pollution that milestone the interstate from Texas to Utah to California. As with most collections of diverse material, The Best ofthe West tells us far less about its subjector the writers included than it does about the editor’staste, intellect, and erudition. In this case, what the volume has to say is complimen­ tary, if in some places a bit too familiar, a bit too obvious to be called the “best.” Even so, this volume offers a high quality collection ofwestern writing that may not be “the best”or even fully representative of that vast literary landscape, but rather captures many of the geographic, historical, and cultural phenomena in American literary history and presents it...


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pp. 81-82
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