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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, as editor, is avoiding rougher terrain closer to home (16 n. 1). Riskier and thus more interesting is the approach taken by those critics who freely admit that Peckinpah’s work often is, as Wanat says of Major Dundee, “a mess” (111) but who then proceed to sort the bodies and sift the wreckage to find artistic merit—and even beauty. Coming into M cPhee Country: John McPhee and the Art of Literary Nonfiction. Edited by O. Alan Weltzien and Susan N. Maher. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003. 326 pages, $19.95. Reviewed by Paul Bogard University of Nevada, Reno In the introduction to their well-organized and thoughtful Coming into McPhee Country: John McPhee and the Art of Literary Nonfiction, editors O. Alan Weltzien and Susan N. Maher admit their hope that the anthology will “further McPhee’s reputation and inspire further scholarly work” (14). With fourteen essays divided into three sections, Coming into McPhee Country seems poised to do exactly that. This effort to advance understanding of John McPhee’s meth­ ods, achievements, and contributions to American writing manages to be, for the most part, both consistently readable and steadily fascinating. The first section, “The Evolving Writer,” begins wonderfully with William Howarth’s “Introducing John McPhee” and Jared Haynes’s ‘“The Size and Shape of the Canvas’: An Interview with John McPhee.” Opening the anthol­ ogy this way was a wise choice by the editors, as these two essays serve as solid foundation for the rest of the book. Howarth offers a careful, comprehensive overview of McPhee’s career and makes an effective case for the influence and importance of his work. Haynes’s interview, perhaps because we hear McPhee speaking for himself, is one of the highlights of the book. In it, McPhee comes across as engaging, curious, and honest, even admitting the “agony” and “anguish” that go into creating his writing (58). For those readers especially B o o k R e v ie w s intrigued by the anthology’s subtitle, Haynes’s discussion with McPhee regarding writing methods, habits, and experiences is particularly engaging. The first section continues its examination of McPhee’s biography and development as a writer with essays by Barbara Lounsberry and Norman Sims. The second section, “McPhee and the Natural World,” begins with O. Alan Weltzien’s fine essay “John McPhee and the Question of Environ­ mental Advocacy.” As the title suggests, this essay deals directly with a central focus of the anthology, the criticism of McPhee’s writing that it lacks a strong enough advocacy of environmentalism. Weltzien argues that polemical writing “runs the risk of making no net change in sentiment, since it typically preaches to the choir or goes unheard” and concludes that “McPhee’s muted advocacy may resonate loudest and prove most enduring” (130, 143). Weltzien’s essay is followed by Michael Pearson’s “In the American Grain: John McPhee’s Coming into the Country,” which focuses on McPhee’s...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 80-82
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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