A Vacation in the Badlands

I took a vacation — a day-trip, if you will. It’s 1:30 in the morning and I  just finished reading Richard S. Wheeler’s western novel BADLANDS, the story of a group of naive paleontologists researching fossils in the heart of the Sioux nation. It’s not nearly as dry a story as that description sounds… though I’m choking on the dust kicked up by Wheeler’s remarkably vivid, and yet keenly economical, prose. I couldn’t go to bed without getting to the end. Yes, I know it’s a cliche, but it’s the truth. He’s taken a surprisingly fresh and unique approach to a time-worn and familiar set-up, the foolhardy easterners led into the untamed west by a wizened, half-Indian guide. But there’s a good reason why Richard S. Wheeler is considered a legend in western literature. He takes the seemingly familiar and makes it brand new by leading you to what appears to be a cliche or stereotype — and deftly playing on your expectations, twists them and takes you instead to a realization of character or place that you didn’t see coming. Don’t let the traditional, western cover fool you.  BADLANDS is more about science, religion, and culture than it is about horses, injuns and shootouts and I loved every minute of it…and found the relaxation and escape I craved to recharge myself creatively for the tasks that lay ahead (it was far more satisfying than Larry McMurtry’s TELEGRAPH DAYS, which I read a couple of months back).  Now I have to tackle Richard’s beloved Skye series from book one onward…and considering how many there are, that alone could end up being a lifetime pursuit.

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