Book Review: “Deadman Canyon” by Louis Trimble

Deadman Canyon

Book: Deadman Canyon, by Louis Trimble

Style:  Cardboard Western (see below)

Plot: On the evening that Clay Belden returns to the town he grew up in to reclaim his land after five years away, a sniper tries to kill him. All signs point to Belden’s old enemy who has struck it rich and has surrounded himself with hired guns. Belden refuses to back down or leave town. Mayhem ensues.

Opening Paragraph: 

CLAY BELDEN came over the pass into the Wildhorse Valley shortly after sunset. He dropped out of the saddle and led his stocky dun pony out of sight of anyone who might be riding this way. Then he climbed up a big, honeycombed rock and positioned himself where he could watch without being seen.

Review

Louis Preston Trimble (2 March 1917 – 9 March 1988) was an American writer and academic. He wrote westerns, mysteries, and science fiction. He is best known for the latter.

According to Wikipedia, “after working as a logger and a housepainter, he became an instructor and professor in humanities and social studies at the University of Washington.” Trimble’s work in applied linguistics examined the use of English in science and technology contexts.

Though Trimble lived in the west (Seattle, at least),  landscape does not play a prominent role in this story. Westerns where landscape is not one of the main characters, if not the central character, are seldom satisfying.

The best Westerns are those with real western landscapes and real western people. This is Larry McMurtry and Elmer Kelton. I call that kind of Western a True Western.

Midwestern-bound, Noir-Western writers like H.A. De Rosso (my favorite of all Western writers)  and Elmore Leonard get around their unfamiliarity with landscape by creating a “mythic West” and peopling it with archetypal characters. They do it so well that in the end, they are able create works of art. This is a Noir Western.

Louis L’Amour who was very familiar with the west, created real western landscapes peopled by cardboard characters, a L’Amour Western.

Trimble, the scientific linguist, in Deadman Canyon creates a cardboard landscape peopled by cardboard characters. The inevitable result is predictably flat. Cardboard Western.

[Note: I like these categories so much I am going to use them on all future Westerns reviewed here. For more information about Westerns reviewed at ClimbingSky, click here.]

 

Sample Lines from Deadman Canyon

The last of the evening light was fading to blackness over the Bitterroot Mountains to the west, and the stars were turning bright and hard and cold in the Montana sky. It was time to go.

* * * * *

“She should know me better than that!” Clay exclaimed. “How much does anybody really know anybody else?” Roddy retorted. “And anyway, most people don’t think with their heads. Most of the time they think with their feelings.

Throwback Thursday

Book Review: “Far Bright Star” by Robert Olmsted

Far Bright Star“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ~Haruki Murakami

There are books you read because of their plot and there are others you read for their tone and style. Far Bright Star by Robert Olmsted is the latter. Like All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac Macarthy, it is a story of beauty and violence and horses and Mexico. And like All the Pretty Horses (and Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry)it is a novel that proves that the Western, when handled by great writers, still has great promise and great possibilities.

I had started Far Bright Star awhile back. But for a variety of reasons, the timing was not right. This week I started it again. The experience this time was magical.

For those who need a plot review in their book reviews, I am inserting here the plot summary from Amazon.com.

The year is 1916. The enemy, Pancho Villa, is elusive. Terrain is unforgiving. Through the mountains and across the long dry stretches of Mexico, Napoleon Childs, an aging cavalryman, leads an expedition of inexperienced horse soldiers on seemingly fruitless searches. Though he is seasoned at such missions, things go terribly wrong, and his patrol is suddenly at the mercy of an enemy intent on their destruction. After witnessing the demise of his troops, Napoleon is left by his captors to die in the desert.

Through him we enter the conflicted mind of a warrior as he tries to survive against all odds, as he seeks to make sense of a lifetime of senseless wars and to reckon with the reasons a man would choose a life on the battlefield. Olmstead, an award-winning writer, has created a tightly wound novel that is as moving as it is terrifying. (cf. Amazon.com)

But it is not the plot that matters in Far Bright Star. It is the tone created by some of the most admirable prose I have come across … since All the Pretty Horses and Blood Meridian. Prose that shimmers and shines like a far, bright star:

Thus far the summer of 1916 had been a siege of wrathy wind and heated air. Dust and light. Sand and light. Wind and light.

* * * * *

The night was desolate, piercingly cold and made thin and transparent and he could see the stars and the stars behind the stars.

* * * * *

It was an immense dark night on earth and he felt have been washed up on a high shore of the world. Whatever dim veil fallen across the heavens was lifted and again there were infinite stars spangling the blue night. The stars were faint and flickered gently as if alive.

* * * * *

On nights like this he would stop the horse and lay back and look at the stars…. It is so like humans to think there is more out there than there is here. They are greedy for the water to be more and for the land to be more and even greedy of the sky to be more.

 

Tuning Out

"Rathlin Island Cross" (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

“Rathlin Island Cross” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

The disaster that is Donald Trump continues to suck the life out of most news cycles. And since news of the buffoon and his dangerous cronies only serves to aggravate and irritate me, I made a vow Sunday to take time off from listening to the news.

For the next week (at least), I will not be reading The New York Times, Salon, Politico, my Twitter feed, nor will I be going to CNN’s website, or FoxNews, or MSNBC, or Buzzfeed….

Instead, I will be:

  • Listening to music (Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Hank Jones, Red Garland)
  • Continuing my slooooow “progress” through Ulysseses (I have until Bloomsday to finish)
  • Reading Paul Sabatier’s wonderful biography of St. Francis, The Road to Assisi
  • Starting a jigsaw puzzle (maybe)
  • And, of course, writing

That is it.

A new Lenten discipline. A letting go.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

O! and wish me luck. I think I am going to need it.

 

Throwback Thursday

On Latinates, Hypocrisies, and “Textual Duplexity”

stone and chipsAs I have said on a numerous occasions, I have been surprised to discover that the thing I have come to enjoy most about this experiment I call MontanaWriter has been when someone I do not personally know has been moved in some way by something I have written to contact me. Whether they like what I have written or dislike it does not matter. What excites me is to think that a stranger has taken the time to read and respond. A writer needs an audience after all.

Recently I received an email from a reader who had stumbled upon MontanaWriter and my review of Wallace Stevens’ poem “Sigmund Freud Discovers the Sea Shell.” The gist of the email was that for all my talk about eliminating latinates from poetry I was “guilty” (her word) of using quite a number in both my poetry and in my poetry reviews.

She was particularly bothered by a term I “made up” (again, her words) in the Stevens’ review, textual duplexity. She said she googled the term and found only one other place it has ever been used, an article on Kierkegaard. “You insist that language needs to have shared meanings, yet you are apparently one of only two persons in the whole world to even pretend to know what ‘textual duplexity’ means. Are you using it ironically or hypocritically.”

My one word answer to that question would be: both. My three word response to the whole email would be: “guilty as charged.”

Duplex, according to online dictionaries has a number of meanings including:

  1. having two principal elements or partsdouble, two-fold
  2. A house divided into two living units or residences, usually having separate entrances
  3. allowing telecommunication in opposite directions simultaneously

The term textual duplexity is rooted in all the meanings of “duplex.” Language, indeed all human interaction, is always at least two-fold and is, by definition, always simultaneous two-way communication.

Words carry multiple meanings. Another (admittedly more poetical) way to say this is: many meanings “inhabit the house” of a single word.  In a poem, these houses – duplexes actually… dwellings of multiple meanings – form streets, and blocks, and neighborhoods, and communities of meanings. These meanings simultaneously interconnect with one another and with the writer and the reader of any poem… any work of art. The term textual duplexity then, seems to me to describe the process as well as any term I could come up with.

I sent an email back to the reader, explaining how I had come up with the term and thanking her for reading what I had read so carefully. I also let her know that I am quite open to any and all other terms or metaphors that could better describe how I imagine poetry to function.

I will keep the readers of MontanaWriter posted when, and if, I find a better term or metaphor. In the meantime, I am going to live with the hypocrisy of my latinates and continue to use the term “textual duplexity.”