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The Wind by Dorothy Scarborough
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's review
Apr 15, 2012

really liked it

This is a classic work of Texas fiction that is memorable for the storm of controversy it caused when it was published anonymously in 1925. Set in the 1880s, it tells the story of a fragile 18-year-old girl from Virginia, suddenly orphaned and left penniless, who goes to live with her cousin, a rancher somewhere west of Sweetwater, in West Texas. Dreamily romantic and totally unprepared for the rigors of life on the plains, she struggles unsuccessfully with deprivations of body, mind, and spirit that only the toughest frontier settlers are fit to confront.

It's her misfortune to arrive in the middle of a terrible drought that parches the treeless land and under the relentless wind turns it into a churning dustbowl. As for many who first settled on the plains, it is the constant wind that is her undoing. Under its maddening influence, her life takes one devastating turn after another, until the story ends in a melodramatic climax.

A reader today may find the melodrama somewhat over the top. A film was made of the story, starring Lillian Gish, and one can easily imagine the sorts of silent movie histrionics used to represent the critical scenes in the story. However, there are pleasures of another kind to be had in the novel, specifically the characters of two enjoyably drawn cowboys, Lige and Sourdough, who both fall in love with the young heroine. Their competition for her affection and their colorful use of the English language brighten these pages considerably.

The author grew up in West Texas, and there's a great deal of the authentic in her writing. The humor and the indomitable fortitude of her frontier characters seem based on observation of the real thing. She's clearly writing from firsthand experience when she describes the landscape, the weather, and the grinding demoralization of year after year of drought. And she captures in detail the impact of sun, sand and wind on the physical appearance of both men and women. It's an anti-romantic vision that Larry McMurtry revived 35 years later in his early novels of ranch life, "Leaving Cheyenne" and "Horseman, Pass By."
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