Northern Lights: A Selection of New Writing from the American West

Deborah Clow, Author, Donald Snow, Editor, Louise Erdrich, Introduction by
Deborah Clow, Author, Donald Snow, Editor, Louise Erdrich, Introduction by Vintage Books USA $13 (398p) ISBN 978-0-679-75542-5
Reviewed on: 10/31/1994
Release date: 11/01/1994
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In essays, short stories and poems, this collection posits that the white man has irreversibly changed the face of the West, conquering the last frontier in an act of arrogance and disrespect for both land and native people. Culled from the pages of Northern Lights magazine, many of the Western authors represented here share a sense of loss for the broken connection between man and the natural world. Each of six sections is prefaced by a poem that sets the tone for the pieces to follow, many of which are excellent, no matter where you live. Edward Abbey is at his best in ``Something About Mac, Cows, Poker, Ranchers, Cowboys, Sex and Power... and Almost Nothing About American Lit.'' His suggestion that open season be established on the over-grazing cattle that are turning the West to dust is, well, controversial, but, as always, Abbey shows the overall absurdity of things. Gary Paul Nabhan strips bare the mystique surrounding the seemingly innocuous tumbleweed and shows it as the symbol of desolation it truly is. ``Staircase'' by Paul Zarzyski, a former bareback bronco rider turned poet, is a tribute to ``a favorite bronc down and dying.'' And Jeanne Dixon's ``River Girls'' speaks of the freedom and bliss the girls of summer find riding their horses through the river to their favorite island. Running the gamut from bleak and pessimistic to warily optimistic to downright hilarious and wild, these works force us to examine the universal issues of what we're doing to ourselves and our wilderness. As C.L. Rawlins states in the closing essay, ``What we've been fighting for isn't places but our souls.'' (Nov.)
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