The purpose of art is to encapsulate a slice of life in writing, painting, sculpture, or other medium and present it in a way that shows the human condition. Katherine Heiny has written a humorous and poignant novel that captures 17 years of Jane’s life between 2002 and 2019. We can see ourselves in Jane as she works through an ordinary life filled with the mundane, the tragic, and the sublime.
When Larry McMurtry died earlier this year I decided to re-read some of his earlier works. Leaving Cheyenne is his second novel and I was struck by two things: 1) I remembered very little about the story. I thought I knew the plot but as I read it it struck me that I only recalled about the first third from my first reading over 40 years ago. 2) This story is another telling of the classic Larry McMurtry theme of a strong-willed woman and a strong-willed man (think Augustus McCrae and Clara Allen in Lonesome Dove.)
The young protagonist – Lonnie Bannon – lives on a cattle ranch near “Thalia” Texas caught up in the tension between his grandfather, Homer, and his uncle, Hud, who have feuded for years. A hoof and mouth outbreak requires Homer to destroy his entire herd. Hud uses the crisis and Homer’s declining condition to gain control of the ranch.
I read this book for two reasons. The secondary reason was because my Western Civilization (in the 1970’s we still focused primarily on Western history) professor at the College of Idaho – Franklin Specht – made the Reformation come alive. There I was, my first year in college, wet behind the years at 18, having no real idea of how history shaped our culture or why I should care. Thanks to Professor Specht, I learned about impacts of events like the Reformation and the French Revolution.
Heather Cox Richardson has the ability of great historians to say “see these events today?” and write a compelling narrative to explain how it started hundreds of years ago and continued to the current day. This book clearly spells out how the suppression and demonization of Blacks by 17th century southern land owners continued to be a successful way of the rich and powerful dominating the 21st century. Read the book, subscribe to her newsletter, or both.