James Grinnell

In Robert Frost: A Life, Jay Parini is a man with a mission, namely to restore the poet's reputation. His new biography is a corrective to the works of earlier biographers who, Parini feels, unfairly besmirched Frost's image.

Robert Frost was arguably the last American poet whose name was known to nonliterary people. Prior to his death in January 1963, his poetry had long been included in school textbooks. Many people knew Mending Wall and The Road Not Taken. The stature of the man and the poetry were both enhanced by Frost's participation in the Kennedy inauguration in 1961 and by JFK's making it known that he often recited Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening in almost prayer-like fashion after a rough day. While Frost never won a Nobel Prize, being awarded the Pulitzer an unprecedented four times helped institutionalize him and his verse.

Then came the iconoclasts. The public perception of Frost was altered most by his official biographer Lawrance Thompson, who in 1966 published the first volume of what Parini calls his three-volume biography where he never lost an opportunity to discover and underline faults in Frost. Thompson's view was that Frost was generally a misanthrope in his private life and was an especially captious parent.

Parini tells us Thompson wasted no opportunity to present Frost as a monster . . ., even though Parini does allow that there is no doubt that on occasion [Frost] behaved badly. Luckily, this corrective element detracts only a little from Parini's excellent scholarly work. He writes well, indeed at times poetically, as when he tells us that Frost pulled a poem together, lacing the rhymes as tightly as a boot. As one would expect from such a major biography, there is a wealth of information how Frost conceived and built upon his public persona, how he created the role of writer-in-residence and the public literary reading. He often drew huge crowds and was handsomely paid even during the depths of the depression.

We remember Frost and read his poetry today in part because he realized the importance of fame. But as Jay Parini's solid biography reminds us, it is the artistic achievement that the famous reputation relies on most.

In Robert Frost: A Life, Jay Parini is a man with a mission, namely to restore the poet's reputation. His new biography is a corrective to the works of earlier biographers who, Parini feels, unfairly besmirched Frost's image. Robert Frost was arguably the last American poet whose name was known to nonliterary people. Prior to […]

With the publication of Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Annie Proulx has become an authentic western writer. Previously acclaimed for her three novels, The Shipping News, Post Cards and Accordion Crimes, and first story collection, Heart Songs, Proulx now turns her talented sights on a fresh subject—the so-called New West.

These 11 stories (really 10, plus a fragment, "55 Miles to the Gas Pump"), are extraordinary. They occur in the lonely, wind-swept, austerely beautiful high plains of Wyoming. To this realistic setting Proulx adds humor, a large dose of empathy and elements of the gothic and fantastic—as in the already celebrated opening story, "The Half-Skinned Steer," which John Updike has included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. (Close Range also includes the first cowboy story I know of that is overtly homosexual, the O. Henry Award-winning "Brokeback Mountain," which concludes the book.) The result is a thoroughly satisfying blend, somewhat like a mixture of Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy.

Making a living in Proulx's Wyoming is a tough undertaking. Consider Diamond Felts, a hapless bull rider on the rodeo circuit in "The Mud Below." Another character tells him, "You rodeo, you're a rooster on Tuesday, a feather duster on Wednesday." Diamond's failures cause him to conclude of life in general that it was all a hard, fast ride that ended in the mud.

Proulx's women are also stoic and long-suffering, although they sometimes soften their condition with fatalistic humor. In the marvelous "A Lonely Coast," the book's only first-person narrative, a group of female friends suffer from and put up with more spousal aberrations than they might if they lived elsewhere and had more options. But, the narrator wryly acknowledges, "there's something wrong with everybody and it's up to you to know what you can handle." Wyoming is our ninth largest state, but has the fewest people. Proulx's narrator explains that if you don't live here, you can't think how lonesome it gets.

James Grinnell lives in Dekalb, Illinois.

With the publication of Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Annie Proulx has become an authentic western writer. Previously acclaimed for her three novels, The Shipping News, Post Cards and Accordion Crimes, and first story collection, Heart Songs, Proulx now turns her talented sights on a fresh subject—the so-called New West.

In his account of the 500-year sweep of interaction between American Indians and Euro-Americans, British writer and historian James Wilson attempts to right some of the wrongs of earlier historians. Fitting 500 years of history into fewer than 500 pages is no small task, but part of Wilson's success is based on his weighting the second half of the 19th century the period when most of the decisions (i.e., mistakes) about the Indian problem were made. Wilson also gives the 20th century, especially the first half, ample space. The settling of the West, the displacement and near annihilation of the Indians, and the modern consequences of those events are treated fully.

For example, a century ago there were more than 300 [American Indian boarding schools] across the country with a combined enrollment of nearly 22,000, close to 10 per cent of the entire native American population at the time. These schools were the result of the Dawes Act of 1877, a piece of legislation that followed a nearly unbroken series of disastrous policies toward native peoples. The first of these schools to open, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was made famous by its most renowned athlete, Jim Thorpe, and the movie based on his life. The sugarcoating job done by that 1951 film (starring the decidedly non-Indian Burt Lancaster) typifies the ongoing revisionism done by white American historians until relatively recently.

Of those boarding schools Wilson writes that native American schoolchildren were thrown into a hostile universe in which everything that made them what they were was systematically ridiculed and condemned. Not surprisingly, many did not survive and many who did survive were scarred for life. . . . He quotes Lakota spokeswoman Charlotte Black Elk who asserted that the Dawes Act was bureaucratic genocide. Children who were successfully civilized were not accepted by their own people. Attitudes persist, so it is easy to understand why little value is placed, even now, on a young person's leaving the reservation to attend a white university.

Throughout, promises were broken, treaties were broken, and the hearts and wills of many strong people were also broken. And yet today native people are again growing in number and importance. James Wilson's The Earth Shall Weep affords a good overview of an unhappy segment of the American past.

Writer James Grinnell lives in DeKalb, Illinois.

In his account of the 500-year sweep of interaction between American Indians and Euro-Americans, British writer and historian James Wilson attempts to right some of the wrongs of earlier historians. Fitting 500 years of history into fewer than 500 pages is no small task, but part of Wilson's success is based on his weighting the […]

During its 50-year history, NASCAR has metamorphosed from dirt track, Saturday night, fairgrounds racing into a national spectator sport. It has become a very big business, but it has not lost its rural, southern roots. A panel of NASCAR stalwarts assembled a list of stock car racing's 50 best (and often most colorful) drivers, representing each of the five decades of NASCAR's history. With NASCAR 50 Greatest Drivers, writers Bill Center and Bob Moore provide a thumbnail history of each driver and his era, along with a sidebar of vital statistics and a collage of photographs from sepia-toned black and whites from the early years to bold color shots of today. Yesteryear's heroes such as Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts, current superstars like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, and the timeless King, Richard Petty they're all here, and they're all legends. This is a book that any NASCAR fan would be happy to own.

During its 50-year history, NASCAR has metamorphosed from dirt track, Saturday night, fairgrounds racing into a national spectator sport. It has become a very big business, but it has not lost its rural, southern roots. A panel of NASCAR stalwarts assembled a list of stock car racing's 50 best (and often most colorful) drivers, representing […]

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