Who Owns the West?


Literary Nonfiction. "WHO OWNS THE WEST? asks the important question that is at the heart of the change transforming the region, and no one is better prepared to lead this discussion than William Kittredge"—The Bloomsbury Review.
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Literary Nonfiction. "WHO OWNS THE WEST? asks the important question that is at the heart of the change transforming the region, and no one is better prepared to lead this discussion than William Kittredge"—The Bloomsbury Review.
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Editorial Reviews

Katherine Whittamore

This is a watercolor of a book, pleasing yet irksomely faint. The problem isn't the prose. Kittredge writes boldly: "We have taken the West for about all it has to give. We have lived like children, taking and taking for generations, and now that childhood is over." No, the flaw's in the format. Sixteen disparate magazine pieces have been threshed into three longish essays (plus a short prologue and epilogue), then baled into a book. They don't quite hold together. Not surprisingly, Kittredge can't really tell us Who Owns the West by ruminating upon Raymond Carver or the Dordogne. The question washes out.

But he keeps giving it a go, with minor success. Most appealingly, he recalls the family ranch in eastern Oregon where he lived from his "scab-handed wandering child" days until age 35. (Kittredge's life on the ranch was also the subject of his 1988 book A Hole in the Sky, a minor classic that is his best book to date.) But then the soft-focus tone shifts to the glare of eco-reality: "We did great damage to the valley," he writes, "as we pursued our sweet impulse to create an agribusiness paradise."

This kind of soul-winnowing runs throughout the text, as Kittredge glances off Earth First, Louis L'Amour Westerns, "monied outsiders" like Ted Turner, a buckaroo boss named Ross Dollarhide, mustangs, grizzlies, Tom McGuane, the mining history of Butte, Montana, a Charlie Russell opening at a Great Falls art gallery, loggers, taverns, the proposed set-aside grassland called Buffalo Commons, dinosaur bones, Wilfred Brimley in The Electric Horseman, Lewis and Clark, and the Oklahoma City bombing. They're all connected somehow, Kittredge seems to say, and we Westerners have to understand our ties. It's not about owning. "In intimacy, he writes, "we learn to cherish each other, through continual acts of imagination. Nothing could be more political. More of what we need in the West today." Fine words. But the fact remains: this milky book doesn't help enough. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Westerners have always had the difficult job of fulfilling the American dream of escape. But at what cost? Those arid stretches of desert and snow-peaked mountain ranges entail responsibilities forgotten long ago on the coasts and in the Midwest, or so Kittredge (Hole in the Sky) might argue. The West is our largest and our last natural resource. As their timber and wildlife dwindle at alarming rates, Westerners have been forced to negotiate razor-sharp moral and ethical high-wires. This balancing act playing out across social and economic classes is what defines the new West-not the encroaching geography of strip malls and coffee bars. Kittredge's meditation portrays the awkward lives of everyday people-writers, hunters, ranchers-who believe that if they gain even the smallest grip on their personal histories, they may regain some piece of their horribly depleted lands. Raymond Carver, depicted here in the brave last months of his life, proves a fitting metaphor. He fled west from cancer, hoping for another in what had been a fortunate series of fresh starts after he combatted and finally beat alcoholism. Like Carver at his best, Kittredge composes a prose well suited to "a story that encourages us to understand that the living world cannot be replicated.'' (Feb.)
Library Journal
Kittredge is an articulate observer of the changes occurring in the American West. As it moves from the Wild West of ranchers, miners, and cowboys to the New West of tourists and environmentalists, Kittredge describes a region in startling transition. He uses this shift to draw parallels between the current changes and the displacement of Native Americans when the first settlers began moving into the area. As his best, Kittredge is thought-provoking and original. With this book, however, the whole is much less than the sum of its parts. Too much of it has a stream-of-consciousness feel, with the author careening from topic to topic, often changing gears in mid-paragraph. Recommended for comprehensive collections only. -Randy Dykhuis, Michigan Lib. Consortium, Lansing
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781562790783
  • Publisher: Mercury House
  • Publication date: 2/1/1995
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 886,585
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: White People in Paradise 3
Pt. 1 Heaven on Earth 9
Pt. 2 Lost Cowboys and Other Westerners 41
Pt. 3 Departures 101
Epilogue: Doing Good Work Together: The Politics of Storytelling 157
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