Riders of the Purple Sage (Barnes & Noble, 2004)
by Zane Grey
Super famous but thoroughly hack western which, despite being intermittently entertaining in spite of itself, might be most "memorable" for the virulence of its anti-Mormon themes and for the fact that Indians are mentioned a million times in the course of the novel without ever once making a non-figurative appearance within its pages. Weird! Given that Riders is set in southern Utah in the 1870s, the narrative's obsession with Native Americans but only with Native Americans who are always offscreen struck me as much more mystifying than either the hackery or the religious intolerance. I mean, even if some of the native "presence" conjured up by and apparently significant to Grey--the references to kivas and the vanished cliff-dwellers of bygone times, for example--is clearly attributable to the demands of landscape and plot, what are we to make of the profusion of "good" ("Little Fay there--she sees things as they appear on the face. An Indian does that. So does a dog. An' an Indian an' a dog are most of the time right in what they see. Mebbe a child is always right") (228), bad ("Then it was that Venters' primitive, childlike mood, like a savage's, seeing yet unthinking, gave way to the encroachment of civilized thought") (153) and indifferent ("My father got his best strain [of horses] in Nevada from Indians who claimed their horses were bred down from the original stock left by the Spaniards") (28) allusions to Indians when Indian characters are otherwise entirely whitewashed from the text (that last allusion being the closest thing to a possible exception)? Was this a genre thing--giving readers what somebody thought they wanted, cowboys and Indians in absentia if you would? Whatever, kind of a strange choice to wind up as "the most popular western novel of all time" although granted Grey's dual love stories, creaky, pulp plot shenanigans about masked riders and hidden valleys, and awkwardly earnest prose ("He saw destiny in the dark, straight path of her wonderful eyes" ) naturally just might strike a more Proustian chord with you than they did with me. Then again, maybe not!
Zane and Dolly Grey, c. 1906