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The Blind Corral (Contemporary American…
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The Blind Corral (Contemporary American fiction)

by Ralph Beer

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Hauntingly beautiful, ineffably sad.
A couple months ago I had never heard of Ralph Beer. Now I have read both of his books - one non-fiction collection of essays (In These Hills) and this novel, The Blind Corral. And I wish there were more. It seems like such a tiny output for such a hugely talented writer. Beer writes about the vanishing West, Montana in particular, in a way that simply tugs at your heartstrings as he describes three-plus generations of small-time ranchers who are trying desperately to hang onto a world they love. They are trapped by a world they cannot understand. "And what had trapped them was so simple, so clear. Change. Change accelerating beyond their wildest dreams ..."

The Heckethorn family name is perhaps indicative of how fiercely they have attached themselves to their land. The protagonist's first name, Jackson, was taken from a creek that runs across their pastures. His brother's name - Summerfield - was no doubt chosen by a similar logic. The family history - the two brothers, the absent, dissolute mother - suggest borrowings from East of Eden. In any case there is much to ponder here, if you are of that bent.

In addition to the beautiful prose, I was delighted to recognize a secondary character in The Blind Corral. It was a very thinly disguised version of writer James Crumley, rendered here as a hard-drinking writer named Duncan Carlisle. Beer even references a Crumley PI novel, calling it The Wrong Ace (vs its real title, The Wrong Case). It's a tip of the hat from one writer to another, made that much more poignant to me, knowing that Crumley died in September 2008. This books was written in 1986.

Otherwise I just don't know what else to say. This is simply a beautiful book, an eloquent elegy to a West that is nearly gone. I wish it weren't true, but ... Thanks for the memories, Ralph, and I hope you are still writing and we can look for another book soon. In any case, I will be thinking about this one for a long time. - Tim Bazzett, author of SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA ( )
2 vote TimBazzett | May 23, 2009 |
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