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Fair Land, Fair Land

by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.

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1697163,546 (3.72)10
A novel of the early-day West in the period between 1845 and 1870 in which Dick Summers, a conservationist, seeks retribution from his former countryman Boone Caudill and companionship with Teal Eye.

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Fair Land, Fair Land by A. B. Guthrie is the third book in the series that he wrote about the American West. He started with The Big Sky, a story about mountain men, then moved on to The Way West detailing how pioneers followed the Oregon Trail settling and developing the region. This third book he called a finishing touch as he wanted closure for the characters of the first two books.

In Fair Land, Fair Land we once again meet Dick Summers, originally a mountain man who became a guide on the Oregon Trail. Now as he looks around, he can see and feel the end of his free way of life. More and more white people are settling, building farms and towns and changing the land. He and his friend Higgins decide to strike out and live a free life while they can. Along the way he meets and takes as his companion, Teal Eye, a young Blackfoot woman who he knew in the past. The book is leading us to his confrontation with Boone Caudill, a previous partner who owes Dick Summer an explanation for his behaviour that ended with the death of a good friend to both men.

This was my first read of Fair Land, Fair Land although I have long been a fan of A. B. Guthrie and have read most of his other books more than once. The author was well known in Montana as a conservationist and was strongly in favor of wolves being returned to Yellowstone Park. In this book he shows some of this by having Dick Summers becoming aware and pondering upon the end of the buffalo, the treatment of the Indians, and the eventual spoiling of the land by over development. This was a historically accurate portrayal but is also a moving and engrossing story. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Sep 18, 2023 |
Loved the first 2 in the series, but this one not so much. White men bad, red men good.... enough already. ( )
  rjdycus | Dec 19, 2022 |
There is there all right, until a man gets to it. Then it ain’t there. It’s here, and here is what you wanted to get away from in the first place.

In the third installment of A.B. Guthrie’s Big Sky series, Guthrie continues the story of Dick Summers, mountain man and wagon train guide and, now, a man searching for a way to face life in a changing west. Setting out to revisit the wild places of his youth, Summers and his friend, Higgins, stumble across Teal Eye, an Indian girl from Summers’ past.

Perhaps the tales of how the West was won have become cliches, but the plight of the Indians and the destruction that came with the taming of the West are very hard to witness in the hands of a skilled storyteller. I mourned for their way of life, disappearing before their eyes, and for the inability of the army and settlers to recognize them as human beings and offer any respect or concern.

There is a new character, a Methodist preacher named Potter, who contributes another view of the well-intended, but sorely misguided, missionary. I loved his goodness and his philosophy concerning God. Too few of those around him heeded his advice.

“I worship a glad lord,” Potter told him. “We have set our faces against sin, as indeed we must, but in doing it I fear we have lost sight of joy. Joy, Brother Summers, delight in what we are given. Often I think God not only wants us to be good but to be radiant.”

Dick Summers will go down in my ledgers as one of the most wonderful characters ever written. In a preface, Guthrie tells us this book was written much later than the earlier ones and was intended to fill a gap that had been left. I, for one, am so glad he decided to fill that gap. I would have hated to have left this part of Dick Summers’ story untold--to have just seen him wander off, seeking wilderness, at the end of The Way West, and never to have been heard of again.

So many good men who have lived have been forgotten and carried all they knew and loved to the grave. In fact, that is the case with most men, but, even unremembered as individuals, they may have had a huge impact on the shaping of a country and the lives that came after them.

“Live and Learn, they say, but don’t say all the while you’re learnin’, you’re forgettin’, too, until maybe at the last it’s just a big forgettin’.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
"Had he held it once, not knowing? Did it flutter there in his hand in those gone days… Where beaver swam in every stream, and a trapper knew his foot was first on the land and he walked with the gods of the world?" (pg. 62)

The third book, chronologically speaking, in A. B. Guthrie's Big Sky series, Fair Land, Fair Land was the last to be written and published. Alas, something seems to have been lost in the 30+ year gap since the publication of its predecessor, The Way West. Nevertheless, a book that doesn't reach the heights of those two earlier books is still scaling a significant altitude, and Fair Land, Fair Land remains a rewarding read.

The biggest surprise in Fair Land was its impatience. The greatest quality in The Big Sky and The Way West was the way they went along at their own loping gait; both pace and prose took their time and this was of great reward to those readers who were willing to treat with them on their own terms. Fair Land, however, opts for a more streamlined text. There is little of the introspection or the descriptive passages that were so beautiful in the previous two books, and we don't get the sense of the land that we got there.

The heart doesn't swell as it did before, and while this makes sense somewhat – considering the characters' unspoiled West is now being settled and disrupted – it doesn't explain why plot points are cooked to a similar short-order. The coincidental way Summers meets up with Teal Eye lacks storytelling grace, and given the build-up I expected the encounter with Boone Caudill to be of greater substance. The couple of pages he is given, without much in the way of reflection, is disappointing considering he was the protagonist of The Big Sky. The way this particular plot point was resolved left me feeling a bit short-changed. The reluctance to dig deep wells is understandable, given that such things require stamina and Guthrie was by the time of Fair Land more than 80 years old, but it doesn't change the taste. There is little of the simmering that makes a soup.

That said, Fair Land, Fair Land is still plenty rewarding. The best part is being back with the main character Dick Summers, the quintessential mountain man "at home in the world" (pg. 24), as he talks with others with an "easy smile and gray eyes and all-around competence" (pg. 18). The book retains the sharp but unintrusive dialogue of its predecessors, and much of the book's grace comes from being in the company of Summers. The return of Teal Eye (from The Big Sky) and Higgins (a promising but relegated character in The Way West) are also enjoyable.

The book as a whole is enjoyable, but it carries with it a sense of obligation. This time period (1845-1870) was a blank patch in Guthrie's career-defining Western tapestry, and he's here to tie off the loose ends of Dick Summers, Boone Caudill and Teal Eye – for posterity. And so when Summers sets off from the west coast to go back east, putting "the promised land… behind them" (pg. 38) to re-tread old ground, there seems to be a sort of metatextual acceptance on Guthrie's part – as on Summers' – that it won't match up to what came before.

Fortunately, alongside its sense of obligation, Fair Land, Fair Land also carries with it great characters, pathos, and that unmatchable landscape. The story and its telling may not be on par with its two predecessors, but Guthrie can still move us considerably. "Give [me] a far reach of eye," Dick Summers asks on page 4, "the grasses rippling, the small streams talking, buttes swimming clear a hundred miles away". And sure enough he gets it, or at least enough of it to satisfy a man who knows he's reaching the end of his story. Guthrie gives it to us too, and we too are satisfied. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Jul 25, 2021 |
On A good day, I tag Guthrie as an historical fiction, on a bad, such as this book, he's a writer of westerns. He ties up the life of Dick Somers, his Natto Bumpo figure. The Maria Massacre of the Blackfoot tribes is a feature. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jan 16, 2014 |
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Dick Summers climbed the ridge from the channeled valley, glad enough to be leaving Oregon behind him.
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A novel of the early-day West in the period between 1845 and 1870 in which Dick Summers, a conservationist, seeks retribution from his former countryman Boone Caudill and companionship with Teal Eye.

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