Good Minds Suggest: Tracy Chevalier's Favorite Frontier Books

March, 2016
Tracy Chevalier

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Life on the frontier was no prairie fairy tale. The romanticized versions we get in movies and books often strip out the era's edge, presenting a simpler, sweeter time. In reality? Happily-ever-afters were hard earned and rare. Tracy Chevalier doesn't shy away from the difficulties of frontier life in her new book, At the Edge of the Orchard. The internationally known, bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn introduces us to James and Sadie Goodenough, poverty-stricken parents who find their future decided by a stretch of swamp that halts their wagon's progress west. With no other option, they attempt to tame the land around them. But carving out stability from the mud is no easy work, and their children will feel the effects of their labor and their sacrifice for decades to come. Chevalier shares her favorite unflinching tales of life, love, and loss on the American frontier.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
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"All of the Little House books are wonderful, but I particularly loved this one. The Ingalls family gets trapped in their house in South Dakota by a brutal winter that depletes the whole town's supplies. To survive they have to grind wheat in a coffee grinder to make basic bread and twist hay into sticks to burn. In the end, Laura's future husband, Almanzo Wilder, saves the day by driving through a blizzard to buy wheat a farmer has been hoarding. I loved the detail of their daily lives, the suffering, and the pulling together of the community to get through the winter."


All True Not a Lie in It by Alix Hawley
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"I am so glad this novel will be published in the U.S. later in 2016, as it gets inside the mind of one of America's most enduring pioneer folk heroes and strips him bare. Early pioneer Daniel Boone is mostly known for his coonskin cap, but in Hawley's version he is a peculiar man with a habit of leaving his family to go hunting and taking years to return. Hawley writes about Boone's relationship with Native Americans and with the harsh landscape he survives in a manner both dreamlike and enthralling."


The Son by Philipp Meyer
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"OK, this novel is not for everyone, as it's incredibly violent and upsetting. But it is also amazing. A young Texan boy sees his family raped, scalped, and killed by Comanches, then is taken to live among them and becomes one, until he is forced to turn tables. The book also follows his family as they become oil barons, but the section among the Comanches is what blew me away; I became so embedded in their lifestyle and mind-set that I felt I really understood what they were like. An impressive feat of imagination."


Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles
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"Set in Civil War Missouri, this poetic novel follows Adair, a young woman in a divided state who sets off to find out what has become of her father. Thrown into prison, she develops a romance with her enemy jailer. I love a feisty heroine, and that set against Jiles's unusual lyricism makes for a gorgeous read."


All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
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"I could have chosen any of McCarthy's books, really, as they are all set on some sort of frontier and are written in a spare, mesmeric style of simple sentences describing actions. Men ride horses to round up cattle or look for work or steal things or fight. They eat beans and meat, wrap themselves in a blanket to sleep by the fire, follow tracks through the desert, get burnt in the sun, kill other men. Set to repeat. Instead of being dull, however, the repetition builds into something magnificent and compelling. This book has the added bonus of a sort of romance, too!"





Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best American Frontier Books



Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Judy (new)

Judy I just finished reading The White by Deborah Larsen. It is a very interesting look into the Seneca tribes, especially how the women live. This life was seen and lived by a young girl who was captured by them then decided to stay with them when given the chance of freedom.


message 2: by Linda (new)

Linda Armstrong Often the people "rescued" from Native American tribes were never fully accepted by whites.


message 3: by Kate (new)

Kate "Indian Captive" by Lois Lenski-- awed me when I was a girl.


message 4: by Quentin (new)

Quentin Krogstad The Orenda tops this list.


message 5: by T.C. (new)

T.C. McKeon I found Cormac McCarthy's Texas trilogy a little disappointing. Gritty certainly, but authentic? If you want western gothic, I would suggest his "Blood Meridian." For authenticity of the homesteader experience, I would add O.E. Rolvaag's "Giants in the Earth." It was published in 1924, written originally in Norwegian and translated to English. It may seem too simple and naïve by more modern literary standards, but it is hard to beat its immediacy and authenticity. From the Native American standpoint, I would suggest James Welch's "Fools Crow."


message 6: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Avina My favorite book about the frontier, especially if you want the nonfiction account of Comanches is Empire of the Summer Moon byS. C. Gwynne. The story of Cynthia Ann Parker, her family, her abduction by Comanches and the rise of her son Qanah Parker as an Indian leader. An exciting read.


message 7: by Laura (new)

Laura T.C. wrote: "I found Cormac McCarthy's Texas trilogy a little disappointing. Gritty certainly, but authentic? If you want western gothic, I would suggest his "Blood Meridian." For authenticity of the homesteade..."

Thanks for the mention of Giants in the Earth! Haven't thought of that book in yrs... Great read!


message 8: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Kate wrote: ""Indian Captive" by Lois Lenski-- awed me when I was a girl."

Me too! Reread it recently and it still is a great story.


message 9: by Kathy (new)

Kathy I recommend "Old Jules" and "Crazy Horse: Our Strange Man of the Oglalas" by Mari Sandoz. Both are very authentic Western portraits.

"Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner is probably my favorite Western novel and a very favorite book for this grown up fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder.


message 10: by Andy (new)

Andy Lane My favourite frontier novels are True Grit by Charles Portis - the language of the novel is enthralling - and Butcher's Crossing by John Williams, which I read last year, and has stayed with me.

I found the second and third books of the McCarthy trilogy hard going, but I loved All The Pretty Horses.


Erin ☕ *Proud Book Hoarder* Interesting recommendations, the wishlist keeps growing


message 12: by Philip (new)

Philip Butchers Crossing is a fantastic rugged book about a Buffalo Hunt. Read it once. Gave it away cause someone else HAD to read. Bought another copy and re-read again all in the span of about a year.

Also I don't think anyone has mentioned Lonesome Dove on this thread?? Its pretty much the greatest book about the American West. I read it about once a year.

P


message 13: by Rekha (new)

Rekha really a vry nice blog i really appreciate all your efforts ,thank you so mch for sharing this valuable information with all of us
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message 14: by T.C. (new)

T.C. McKeon Wallace Stegner's "Angle of Repose" deserves citation even with the implications of plagiarism that have dogged it since his death. It is a great novel. Where else can you find Clarence King as a character? I have another of Stegner's books to recommend, "Wolf Willow." It is part memoir, part geography, part history and a novella sandwiched into one great western book.


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