Jason's Reviews > Mountain Man

Mountain Man by Vardis Fisher
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's review
Feb 25, 2011

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bookshelves: westerns

In MOUNTAIN MAN, Vardis Fisher fictionalizes the true accounts of John ‘Liver-eating’ Johnston (who was driven to revenge cannibalism against the Crow Indians after they slaughtered his squaw wife) and Jane Morgan (a frontier settler whose family was slaughtered on the Musselshell river).
Vardis tones-down the true story, replacing cannibalism with the insulting removal of a bodily part, and by making Johnston (renamed Sam Minard) an educated & cultured Easterner (he plays classical tunes on his harmonica & knows Shakespeare) who finds his true, free self in the virgin forests of the majestic West.
The writing is appropriately florid when need-be (such as in the descriptions of nature) and romantic as well (specifically, when he takes his very young wife and begins to bond with her).
The inclusion of real historical Mountain Men as characters that Sam knows, and of accounts of some truly heroic events of famous mountain men were welcome treats.
Two negatives:
1) Fisher, for some incomprehensible reason (perhaps he was a compulsive food fetishist?) details just about every meal Sam Minard has throughout his tale. One or two descriptions of the usually odd and grotesque victuals the Mountain Man had-to & learned-to eat are fascinating and definitely needed in a story like this. But not every time the main character wakes up or before he goes to sleep! It is maddening!

2) The story detailing the sad, solitary, mute mourning of Jane Morgan (here she is known as Kate Bowden) is visited too often by Fisher. He uses these episodes as a resting point for Sam Minard where he can reconnect to his humanity. But Kate is such a zombie that there is no interaction and, therefore, no change in the plot with each visit. As a reader I found it repetitious to a fault without a narrative pay-off.

A minor re-edit of the food descriptions and the trimming of the Kate Bowden episodes would make this a tight, top-notch novel.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 1, 2010 – Finished Reading
February 25, 2011 – Shelved
March 15, 2011 – Shelved as: westerns

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Tamra Well put!

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