Still Wild: Short Fiction of the American West 1950 to the Present

Still Wild: Short Fiction of the American West 1950 to the Present

by Larry McMurtry
     
 

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The Real Western Canon
Larry McMurtry, the preeminent chronicler of the American West, celebrates the best of contemporary Western short fiction, introducing a stellar collection of twenty stories that represent, in various ways, the coming-of-age of the legendary American frontier.
Featuring a veritable Who's Who of the century's most distinctive

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Overview

The Real Western Canon
Larry McMurtry, the preeminent chronicler of the American West, celebrates the best of contemporary Western short fiction, introducing a stellar collection of twenty stories that represent, in various ways, the coming-of-age of the legendary American frontier.
Featuring a veritable Who's Who of the century's most distinctive writers, this collection effectively departs from the standard superstars of the Western genre. McMurtry has chosen a refreshing range of work that, when taken as a whole, depicts the evolution and maturation of Western writing over several decades. The featured tales are not so concerned with the American West of history and geography as they are with the American West of the imagination — one that is alternately comic, gritty, individual, searing, and complex.
Contributors
Wallace Stegner
• Dave Hickey
• Dao Strom
• Dagoberto Gilb
• William Hauptman
• Jack Kerouac
• Ron Hansen
• Diana Ossana
• Robert Boswell
• Tom McGuane Louise Erdrich
• Max Apple
• Mark Jude Poirier
• Rick Bass
• Jon Billman
• Richard Ford
• Raymond Carver
• Annie Proulx
• Leslie Marmon Silko
• William H. Gass

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Adam Woog The Seattle Times A fine collection....Every contributor, famous author or not, is strong and sure-footed.

Sybil Downing The Denver Post It has been said that good short stories create a single impact that sticks with the reader. Every story in this anthology qualifies.

Library Journal
No, not Louis L'Amour, but 20 tales of the West from the likes of Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Jack Kerouac. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
"The severities of pioneer life yield up no Prousts," novelist McMurtry observes in his terse introduction to this varied gathering of short fiction by contemporary writers who "at one point or another in their careers have taken as their subject life in the American West." His point about pioneer life is that until recently most of those who wrote about the West were outsiders, not the native-born, and they wrote about a West filtered through their romantic or ideological notions of what it was. Not until the 1950s did significant numbers of writers, either born in the West or longtime residents, begin to deal with its complex history and somewhat grim present. Wallace Stegner, a founding father of the modern western tradition, is necessarily present ("Buglesong"). Some of the other choices are also necessary if unsurprising: Tom McGuane ("Dogs"); Richard Ford ("Rock Springs"); and William H. Gass (a classic tale, "The Pedersen Kid"). William Hauptman (the wonderful "Good Rockin' Tonight"), Rick Bass ("Mahatma Joe," one of his most precise and effective stories), Annie Proulx ("Brokeback Mountain"), and Raymond Carver ("The Third Thing That Killed My Father") are among the other well-known figures here. Dagoberto Gilb, Louise Erdrich, and Leslie Marmon Silko stand in as representatives of the upsurge in western fiction being produced by Hispanic and Native American writers. And several less well-known authors (Dave Hickey, Mark Jude Poirier, and Jon Bllman) indicate the still-vibrant nature of the tradition. A useful survey, and a nicely varied compendium of vigorous tales.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684868837
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
06/05/2001
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
810,799
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.89(d)

Meet the Author

Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove, three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than thirty screenplays. He lives in Archer City, Texas.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Archer City, Texas
Date of Birth:
June 3, 1936
Place of Birth:
Wichita Falls, Texas
Education:
B.A., North Texas State University, 1958; M.A., Rice University, 1960. Also studied at Stanford University.

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Introduction

Still Wild is meant to remind readers of, or introduce them to, short fiction by twenty good writers who, at one point or another in their careers, have taken as their subject life in the American West — but taken it in a special way. Theirs is not so much the West of history or the West of geography as it is the West of the imagination: funny, gritty, isolate, searing, tragic, complex.

Part of my intent as a compiler has been to assemble a coming-of-age anthology, because it seems to me that it has only been in the second half of the twentieth century that the West has come of age as a producer — as opposed to an importer — of first-rate writers. From the time of the California gold rush to at least the end of World War I, most of the writers who achieved popularity by writing fiction set in the West — writers whose work aspired to be at least a rung or two above the dime novel or the family anecdote — came from the East. Jack London was a native, but most were not, and the work of Owen Wister, Charles King, Zane Grey, Eugene Manlove Rhodes, and others reads now like dude-ranch fiction, a sort of white-collar pulp. Many of these writers loved the West deeply, and, once they found it, never left it, but, still, they wrote as outsiders: fans, rather than natives; and, as fans, they were likely to wax romantic about the western life that they saw, or, perhaps, imagined.

Most of them wrote for the illustrated magazines of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, where they were matched in their romanticism by two generations of equally romantic illustrators: Frederick Remington, Alfred Jacob Miller, Charles Schreyvogel, Frank Schoonover, Nick Eggenhofer, Edward Borein, Will James, and others. Most of the stories were quite flimsy; the writers needed the illustrators and perhaps were not aware to what an extent they were in competition with the artists whose drawings supported their stories.

Indeed, competition with the image is a factor in the development of western writing that is seldom mentioned, though it was certainly serious. The grandeur of western landscape drew gifted painters immediately; gifted writers followed in their wake. Washington Irving's Tour of the Prairies(1835) contained some fairly vivid word pictures, but not as vivid as the actual paintings of George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Alfred Jacob Miller, or Thomas Moran. Then, before the painters quit, the camera arrived, followed in only a few decades by the motion pictures, which, throughout the whole of the twentieth century, competed vigorously not just with western literature but with all literature, though it was probably in relation to the West that the challenge movies raised to literature was most acute. It takes a genius-level descriptive sentence to compete with the beauty of horses running, a pure kinetic joy that can be had in even the trashiest western films.

Image-competition apart, there were other reasons why good writers, in any sort of critical mass, were slow to appear in the West, the main one being that until the 1950s much of the West either wasn't settled enough or hadn't been settled long enough to produce first-rate writers. The severities of pioneer life yield up no Prousts. The native peoples of the nineteenth-century West, whether of the plains, the desert, or the coast, at least had societies, whereas the whites who fought them and displaced them for a time, and a considerable time, mainly just had families. Writers need schooling, need to have at least some contact with a society that values literary effort, but it was not until almost the midpoint of the twentieth century that literate society and reasonably good schooling could be assumed in the West.

Though it may startle several of them to hear it, the simplest thing one can say about the writers in this anthology is that they are not self-educated. Though only a few of them, notably Wallace Stegner and William H. Gass, made full and prominent careers in the academies, all of them have at least drifted through a college campus and gone to a party or two — by which I mean that all of them write with a developed awareness of literary tradition. Wallace Stegner and Jack Kerouac wrote very different prose; Stegner stayed in the academy, whereas Kerouac left it, but both were men who had studied hard, and the same can be said for most of the writers whose stories I have chosen for this book. The younger among them may have gone to school to Donald Barthelme or Raymond Carver, the older ones to Chekhov, Hemingway, Lawrence, Joyce, or Faulkner, but they are all aware — as earlier generations were not — that there had once been giants in the land and that they must first read them if they hope to extend what they had done.

Perhaps the most famous quote in D. H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature, published in 1924, is this: "Never trust the artist. Trust the tale."

I take that to mean that, having located and arranged these twenty stories, I now have license to leave, so that the process of trusting can begin. I could go through the table of contents, pointing out the obvious: that Wallace Stegner never lost sight of the cruelty within the beauty of the West, that Jack Kerouac, in "The Mexican Girl," wrote a great love letter to L.A., and so on. But to track through these twenty stories and chart, for the reader, their themes and affinities, is not my job. Better to go to Lawrence again, to the essay called "The Spirit of Place," written in 1924:

The real American day hasn't come yet. Or at least, not yet sunrise. So far it has been the false dawn....

It is no longer 1924. By the time of Lawrence's death, only six years later, Hemingway and Faulkner had already published their best work. The sun had well risen, and it's up there still. The writers in this book all work in the strong western sunlight of the real American day.

Larry McMurtry

Copyright © 2000 by Larry McMurtry

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