Tuesday, February 1, 2011


What blizzard?

Some ten years ago or so, I read both Claire Davis's Winter Range, which had then just been published, with Alan LeMay's Winter Range (1932) in tandem.  The former is a contemporary literary western, as its title implies, but it is also a love story, a meditation on the humane treatment of animals, and a study of the values of a small community. The author has a gift of dialog and writes some beautiful descriptive passages, including her description of the novel's snowstorm.

It was also interesting to compare the history and sense of identity of Pattiann, the author's female protagonist, with that of Judy Blunt, author of the memoir, Breaking Clean. Blunt's memoir is also an excellent tandem read, and in the front of the book she provides us with a map which comes in handy reading either book.

Blunt is also the first person Davis thanks on the acknowledgments page of her novel, and Blunt thanked Davis in the front of her memoir.  Coincidence seems to be the norm in westerns, and I found similar passages in LeMay's Winter Range, first published back in 1932, though I doubt that either Blunt or Davis ever read it, despite the shared title.

Snowstorms are naturally standard fare in novels set in the American West, but some are more memorable than others.  One of the best is prominent in John Williams' excellent Butcher's Crossing (New York Review Books Classics), first published back in 1960 and better known now than then.
Above is the first edition dustjacket of Butcher's Crossing.  I like the design, considering the content of the novel, but it is difficult to find in fine condition.
The cover on the NYRB edition is also a good choice.  This marvelous novel was little known before the NYRB sought it our and published it in their efforts to revive forgotten gems.  I'm grateful to them for that.
With a plot that ties two historic hard winters together, Johnny D. Boggs deserves a mention for this book, which won the YA Spur Award but might have been considered for top overall honors.  True, it is a character-driven coming-of-age novel, but it also says a lot about historical cowboy economics and the hardships such winters wrought on livestock and humans alike.

No doubt the current hard winter will be the legendary source of its own yarns to be told in years to come.

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