The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999

Book Reviews

With images like these, who indeed could forget the reasons writers and read-
ers and other virtual westerners keep being drawn to stories like this in the first
place? In Desperate Men, the late James Horan never loses sight of the fact that
history is preserved not only because it is important, but because it's fun.
Austin Jesse Sublett
Zane Grey: Romancing the West. By Stephen J. May. (Athens: Swallow Press/Ohio
University Press, 1997. Pp. xviii+18o. Illustrations, preface, notes, refer-
ences, index. ISBN o-8214-1182-9. $14.95, paper).
Pearl Zane Grey, of Zanesville, Ohio, wrote his first story, "Jim of the Cave," at
the age of fifteen, and not long afterward he suffered the first of what would be a
lifetime of critical attacks. When the aspiring author's overzealous, dentist father
found out that his son had indulged in such a frivolous waste of time instead of
concentrating on his dental studies, the stern patriarch ripped up the manuscript
in front of the boy and then proceeded to whip him with a carpet strip. Though
the incident may have had the intended, if temporary, effect of coercing Grey
into dentistry, it also fused in his impressionable mind the act of writing with feel-
ings of self-doubt, guilt, and shame. For the rest of his life, as Grey abandoned
dentistry and doggedly pursued what became an extraordinarily successful writ-
ing career, the author endeavored to overcome his father's ridicule while at the
same time experiencing it anew with every rejection or criticism.
Of course, self-doubt, guilt, and shame are strangers to few writers, regardless
of the level of success they attain, but Grey's remarkable ambition, according to
Stephen J. May, seemed to feed off them to an unusual degree. For May, Grey's
early experiences left him emotionally stunted, "trapped in the enthusiasms of a
fifteen-year-old," and help explain why the author "never matured beyond the
formulaic western romance and why his novels tend to be youth-driven search-
ings for an idealized and ordered world" (pp. 22-23).
Though critics have never liked Grey, his books have retained a faithful audi-
ence. In this small, well-written book, Stephen J. May seeks not to ignore Grey's
faults but to salvage for serious readers what in Grey's work deserves to be val-
ued: the author's earnest spiritual search and genuine appreciation of the
American West. "It is generally the land that saves a poorly conceived character
or an ill-drawn situation" (p. 78), May writes about Desert Gold (1913), but the
observation holds true for all of Grey's best work, the novels written between
1903 and 1925.
James K. Folsom, writing in The Reader's Encyclopedia of the American West in
1977, had these scathing words (among others) to say about Grey: "He is
remembered today primarily as the author who, almost single-handedly, suc-
ceeded in convincing the average reader that absolutely no merit can possibly be
discovered in any western writing whatever." May's volume represents a signifi-
cant step toward a more balanced consideration of one of America's most prolif-
ic and successful writers.



Indiana Historical Society

J. Kent Calder

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed November 24, 2015.