Regan Sharp's Reviews > The Big Sky

The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
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Jun 03, 11

bookshelves: westerns, guns, made-into-a-movie
Read from May 25 to June 02, 2011

I debated going with 3 or 4 stars for this book. For the most part, I really enjoyed it. The writing was more poetic than I had anticipated and also more direct and violent, both qualities which made it worth reading. The character of Boone Caudill was intriguing. He was bold and adventurous, but not necessarily heroic. Some of his deeds were admirable and others were downright loathsome. In my estimation, Guthrie provided a realistic portrayal of a man who would run from domesticated society into the rough and rowdy world of the wild. His life was extreme, but he was not painted as a larger than life persona whose every deed was justifiable.

However, I was not entirely convinced by the Indian characters. They were drawn with a lot of broad stereotypical strokes. Either they were ruthless savages(any tribe that attacked the white man), dumb harmless animals (Poordevil) or some majestic creature to be looked upon with awe(Teal Eye.) Guthrie clearly did not see them as real people and perhaps this novel, influential as it is, was the standard for how westerns and Hollywood portrayed them. I cringed every single time a "How!" was thrown out or "heap" was used as the preferred adjective.

Along those lines I was also a bit confused by the rampant appearance of the "N-word." Did mountain men really refer to themselves as such (or alternately as "child?") The phrasing seems peculiar. More than the character's use, however, I was put off by Guthrie's use of the word as a descriptive term in his writing. On several occasions he makes a comparison between something and a n----- (i.e. dead bodies are "blacker than a...") I'm not so naive to think that the world of the wild frontier or the era that the novel was written in wasn't racist, but I wasn't expecting anything so blatant.

The thing that kept me most from giving it a higher rating was the section of the novel involving the time on the boat. The development of the characters, their relationships to each other and the world, and all future action revolves around this part, but I had a hard time staying interested. The descriptions weren't as vivid or captivating as the rest of the book. It seemed to meander and drag, making me feel as if I was personally trying to push a boat upstream. So sluggish was the pace and so dull the writing at this point, that I nearly gave up on the book. It wasn't until the action resumed on dry land that my interest picked back up.
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