Ron's Reviews > Shane

Shane by Jack Schaefer
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Apr 30, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: westerns

Jack Schaefer has set his story at the time of Wyoming's Johnson County "wars" between cattlemen and anyone, like rustlers and homesteaders, who cut into their profits. First published in 1949, the novel also reflects something of the war that had just ended for Americans who fought in Europe and the Pacific. We have a young family struggling to put down roots on the frontier, wanting little more than an ordered life and the opportunity to make a living among a gathering of neighbors who want the same for their own families.

But they are prevented by men who want the open range for themselves and their own economic interests, and they'll stop at nothing to get their way. While the father of the family attempts bravely to hold his own, his neighbors are intimidated, feeling threatened and outnumbered. Shane, a man with a shadowy past, arrives in the middle of this conflict, and while he assumes for a time the life of a hired hand, his gunslinger services are eventually needed to defend the lives and property of the family that has given him a home. We see what we have suspected, that he is a killer, and there's no place for him in their sunny, settled world. He must go back on the trail and disappear.

Given the time in which it was written, "Shane" is a commentary on the role of violence in a world where law and order, on an international level, had been in short supply. Americans - and especially returning soldiers - had seen this for themselves. The novel carries this disturbing awareness right into the daily life of home and hometown. The mystery of Shane's identity suggests that what he represents in the story is a darker side of ourselves that does not integrate well with the more honorable aspects of self we prefer to acknowledge.

The simplicity of Schaefer's tale, and his choice of a boy as narrator, allow readers to fill in a lot of details and emotions that tap into their own deeper fears and desires. The two men joining forces to uproot the tree stump is like a scene from a dream that wants to be understood - it's not just about a tree stump. But what? While the film for all its widescreen glory is not without merit, it's dated in a way the book may never be. In its 250+ pages, it speaks of elemental forces and how we go about living in a world where we are threatened by circumstances beyond our control.

The University of Nebraska Press has assembled a critical edition that includes several fine essays providing historical background, analysis of the text, commentary and reviews on the film adaptation.
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