Friday, December 23, 2011

Dallas Morning News :: West of 98 & Best of the West 2011

West of 98
Edited by Lynn Stegner and
Russell Rowland
Buy It Now
Book review: West of 98 and Best of the West 2011
By Jenny Shank

“Westerners have been reminded … that we are interesting in some of the same ways that cavemen or headhunters are interesting,” writes Montana novelist Russell Rowland in West of 98, one of two new anthologies published by the University of Texas Press. But what’s clear from these collections, one of fiction and the other of essays, is that Westerners are curiosities to ourselves as much as we are to outsiders.

The 20 stories in the fiction collection, Best of the West 2011, display a wide range of styles and structures, with a few common themes recurring — the primacy of characters’ interaction with gorgeous, yet treacherous, Western landscapes; their penchant for road trips; and their frequent bouts of criminal behavior.

Best of the West 2011
Edited by James Thomas and
D. Seth Horton
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K.L. Cook vividly imagines a boy’s encounter with legendary outlaws in Depression-era Texas in the moving “Bonnie and Clyde in the Backyard.” Meth addicts steal the identities of unsuspecting Nebraskans in Judy Doenges’ “Melinda.” A bereaved couple unknowingly enjoys a moment of respite amid the ongoing drug war in Nuevo Laredo in Peter LaSalle’s elegant “Lunch Across the Bridge,” while an Oklahoma couple reignites old sparks when they play chicken with oncoming traffic in Aaron Gwyn’s startling “Drive.”

In Ron Carlson’s “Escape from Prison,” an embezzling banker retreats to his Colorado cabin after his malfeasance is discovered. The narrator of Claire Vaye Watkins’ clever, epistolary “The Last Thing We Need” reveals a shooting that has haunted him his entire life. In Shawn Vestal’s innovative “Opposition In All Things,” Rulon Warren returns from World War I to the Idaho Mormon community where he grew up and is possessed by the spirit of a gun-toting pioneer forebear, who urges him to go down with his gun blasting.

The essayists featured in West of 98, which the novelist Rowland edited with Lynn Stegner, are of a more law-abiding sort than the characters in Best of the West. Fans of contemporary Western American literature will recognize most of the authors — the editors gathered contributions from many of the most eloquent writers in the region.

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