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BO O K REVIEW S I find Even Mountains Vanish outstanding in its ability to capture simultane­ ously scope and essence. With its nuanced connections between personal, geo­ logic, and evolutionary details, this essay collection would be well suited to courses in ecocriticism, environmental history, and personal narrative. Demonstrating the value ofbeing attentive to natural processes, Campbell reveals unique ways in which the evolutionary adaptations of species can inform our lives. From lichens Campbell learns to “accept that the same thin skin that admits nourishment also makes you vulnerable” and to understand the importance of “shar[ing] pieces of yourself with the world.” From alpine forget-me-nots she learns to “put down deep roots. Be passionate. Make beauty. Bloom like mad” (58). Filled with such lyrical insights, Even Mountains Vanish reveals how research and meditation on the essence of place can provide awareness, enjoyment, and wisdom. Sam Peckinpah’s West: New Perspectives. Edited by Leonard Engel. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003. 268 pages, $21.95. Reviewed by Brian McCuskey Utah State University, Logan Defending Sam Peckinpah as a serious artist is hard work, largely because crit­ ics hostile to his films have so much ammunition, whether they wish to accuse him of sadism or silliness: the slow-motion butchering of heroes and villains alike, the raping of one female character after another, the ragged editing of scenes and whole storylines, and so on. To stand up for the controversial director, Leonard Engel has enlisted a bunch of fiercely sympathetic critics; in the spirit of the Western, they assume that the best defense is a swift, ruthless offense. On the first page of the introduction alone, Engel marshals allusions to Yeats, Keats, and T. S. Eliot; the next essay asserts that “Thoreau, no less than Nietzsche, prefigured Peckinpah” (21). In dropping names from Sophocles to Emily Dickinson, the volume as a whole tends to read the course of Western art history as a prelude to Peckinpah, who takes his place as chief among the immortals: “Homer is one of the few artists to equal Peckinpah in the brutally graphic portrayal of violent death” (125). Engel’s posse gets off to a bumpy start. Armando José Prats’s overlong and somewhat overwrought theoretical essay on the “American postmythic” is fol­ lowed by a very short and thus unsatisfactory sketch of Peckinpah’s television career by Philip Skerry. Skerry should have wrested ten pages away from Prats and taken the lead himself: an extended discussion of Peckinpah’s early work would have provided helpful context for understanding his later movies, while a more succinct piece on the ideology of the Western genre would have clari­ fied key issues and problems for the rest of the contributors to explore. From there, the volume settles down and offers a series of thoughtful and provocative analyses of Peckinpah’s most famous Westerns, including John Simons on Ride the High Country (1962), Matt Wanat on Major Dundee (1965), John Gourlie 8 0 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e S p r in g 2 0 0 6 on The Wild Bunch (1969) and The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), and Engel himself on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). These fine essays, with their keen eye for visual detail and symbolic meaning, wholly persuade the reader of Peckinpah’s mastery when working at the height of his powers. But what about when those powers failed Peckinpah— or, as often happened , when the studio meddled with his vision? The volume seems to concede that his wildest, most offensive films are beyond mention, let alone redemp­ tion: gone missing here are both Straw Dogs (1971), despite its obvious debt to Western narratives of besiegement and revenge, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), another foray into dusty, darkest Mexico. Instead, we read about less germane films—The Getaway (1972) and Convoy (1978)—in essays by Stephen Tatum and Elaine Marshall that, however insightful, veer far enough into the outlying reaches of what Engel calls the “quasi-Western” that one cannot help but feel that he...


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pp. 79-80
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