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B o o k R e v ie w s 421 Jackalope Dreams. By Mary Clearman Blew. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008. 390 pages, $24-95. Reviewed by Tara Penry Boise State University, Idaho What’s a ranch-born Montana schoolteacher to do when she loses her rural teaching job at age fifty-eight? What kindness does she owe the wayward thir­ teen-year-old girl from Santa Monica whose father got her fired? What goes on behind the manicured lawns and automatic draperies of the Doggett mansion? In a kaleidoscope of episodes told from the point of view of multiple charac­ ters, Mary Clearman Blew’s first novel will delight admirers of her earlier books and attract new readers to the WLA’s 2004 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient. The work of a writer at the top of her game, Jackalope Dreams fuses familiar Blew themes— concerning memory, feminine autonomy, and a complex rejection of western mythology—with a well-paced, sinuous plot. It contains pleasures for casual readers and academics, including all the ingredients of a clas­ sic western novel turned monstrous, to borrow a trope from Blew’s epigraph. If the first chapter announces a Western of sorts— opening with a horse­ back ride and ending with the aftermath of a gunshot—the first lines announce a feminist revisionist twist. The protagonist, Corey Henry, has been “facing the weather too long, she’s got a temper like a bad windstorm, and she’s too old to be starting over” (1). Hardly in keeping with the myth of western progress, she has just been fired from her job at an age when urban peers might be think­ ing about retirement. She seems stuck in a “goddamn time warp,” haunted by voices from the past that prevent her from making a place for herself in the contemporary West (2). As plotlines develop, readers already acquainted with Blew will recognize her insistence in Jackalope Dreams that women and girls find their own voices and script their own life stories. Corey Henry’s struggle for independence from controlling regional nanatives and controlling men is mirrored in young Ariel Doggett. Neither character seems likely to find independence in this landscape, for Corey learned the cowboy life from her controlling father (“Time was when she had consciously imitated him”) and Ariel, fearing vampires in the woods, will do almost anything to get back to California (92). What story can either character create for herself in Munay County, Montana? Among other scripts that Jackalope Dreams rejects, the novel refuses to imagine the New West as inevitably or unproblematically supplanting the Old. While seasons move inexorably (“July slides into August, and the grassheads whisper of the end of the season”), in other crucial ways, time does not move in a straight line (297). Adapting a technique she developed in her trilogy of family memoirs, Blew moves readily between past and present, as between character voices, to weave a tapestry of incident and association in which the past is very much alive in the present. The novel plays linear against static time, 4 2 2 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e W i n t e r 2 0 0 9 as when the narrator carefully describes Corey’s route home in the opening pages, only to follow the ride with a scenic tableau that compresses memories with present action, even calling up “ghosts of the unborn and unknown” (15). Reflecting on that scene later, Corey ponders “Simultaneity” of sight and sound, past and present and possibility (80). Like her family memoir All But the Waltz (1991), Blew’s novel offers an Anglo, rural vision of the New West that draws its revisionist power from neither cityscapes nor ethnic interchange but from the daily interactions of homesteaders’ descendants and their new neighbors with landscape and myth. In answer to one of its heroine’s concerns, Jackalope Dreams is undeniably “Western enough” to make a fine gift for fans of fiction of the New and the Old West (270). Like much of Blew’s earlier work, it is also sophisticated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 421-422
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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