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The Blonde Huns
The Desert of Wheat by Zane Grey
© 2012 James LaFond
The Desert of Wheat
Zane Grey, 2001, Forge, 345 pages
I like reading western novels. This was my first Zane Grey novel and I have mixed feelings and a muddled opinion of it. I am glad that I read it, and the reading of it was not difficult. Zane Grey was a powerful novelist with a gift for painting landscape pictures with words. This is the prerequisite skill for a writer of westerns. Grey also did impeccable research on his subject, apparently even using some transcripts from municipal meetings.
This story is about a young farmer and the daughter of a wealthy landowner falling in love on the eve of America’s entry into World War One. The setting is the high country above Spokane Washington and involves a lot of skanky labor politics.
The setting is obscure, the dialect good, the dialogue believable and the action sequences competently drawn. There is a trench warfare scene that was particularly good. If you are wondering at the genre, the Brad Pitt movie Legends of the Fall is as close as you will come. There is an insightful treatment of PTSD at the end of this book, which was very much ahead of its time.
You have to come to this story with some tolerance for past prejudices. The author died in 1939 [and was born not long after the Civil War!], so the writing of this novel was sometime before that; before World War Two, which is the beginning of history for most modern people.
The hero and heroine are almost too virtuous, but not quite. The worst thing about the book was the author’s reliance on racial and ethnic stereotypes. Considering his time I can forgive him his holding these beliefs, but to use them as a means of describing characters is lazy writing, and is where I find fault with this work. This last aspect ruined the book for me: Germans are all ‘murdering Hun’s; first generation immigrants and foreigners are all untrustworthy; negroes are lowlifes; the hero beets the villain with his fists rather than shoot him because he is ‘an American’, and Americans are good guys, and good guys don’t shoot people…
After that scene the reading became work. The author redeemed himself in the last quarter of the book, particularly by not providing a storybook ending. I would not recommend this book to you. However, it was good enough for me to try the author again. I am still interested in two of his titles.
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