Thursday, January 15, 2009
09.01 Riders Of The Purple Sage by Zane Grey
Riders Of The Purple Sage (1912) by Zane Grey
I thought I would take another stab at the Western genre. I have read a couple of Elmore Leonard's western novels but those are more of a re-imagining of the style. Sort of like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven as compared to The Great Train Robbery*. Zane Grey on the other hand is the real deal. He was one of the founders of the genre and Riders of the Purple Sage was one of his first books.
There were a few things that surprised me about this book. It was a long novel (over 300 pages) and the plot was moderately complex. The story takes place in western Utah in 1871 in a small Mormon town. A young woman whose dead father was the scion of the town has taken up a spinster life managing her fathers vast holdings and associating with cowboy Gentiles (non-Mormons). The town elders and other top Mormons don't like this and begin a campaign to ruin the woman. Through the help of her Gentile friends she eventually comes to see the true evil of the supposedly upstanding Mormon community.
I can't totally figure out where I come down on this novel. The writing can be really simplistic with dialogue that is just plain bad. Also, I expect because of the era in which it was written, there is little or no "grit" - no violence or hard language. This is too bad because he sets up some really incredible confrontations between characters.
However, there are some nuggets of gold to be found in here. The descriptions of the country are amazing and powerful. There is a scene where a thunderstorm washes across the sage that was incredibly vivid. Also, some of the action (especially the horse chases) were really a lot of fun.
I am not going to be one of those huge Zane Grey fans buying up all his oeuvre but given the option of one of his books on one of those dismal hotel used bookshelves I would definitely read him again.
* The first film version of Riders was made in 1918, then again in 1925, 1931, 1941 and in 1996 with Ed Harris.
Posted by Jason L