Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kent Meyers, The Work of Wolves

Dakota Territory Week continues today with a novel set in the reservation and ranchland of central South Dakota. The author, who teaches at Black Hills State University, has written before of small-town life in Minnesota. His collection of short stories, Light in the Crossing, is terrific, and so is his novel, The River Warren.

Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, South Dakota
In whatever time it has taken him to put down roots in South Dakota, Meyers has tapped into the world of modern-day cowboys and Indians. The novel cuts deep into the western psyche, its frame of mind, and its values.

A slender plot-line for its 400+ pages, it glows with intensity at each turn. While your desire to know what happens next presses you onward, you pause along with the author to reflect on the thoughts and feelings of the characters. All are pulled into a flow of events that begins with the purchase of a horse and leads inevitably to the burning of a house.

There is humor, suspense, family drama, surprises, ironies of all kinds, a smoldering romance, conflicts, animosity, suspense, farce, triumphs and sorrows in Meyers' novel. And all is woven around a continuing meditation on moral complexity and finally the great difficulty of doing the right thing when there are deep emotions, conflicting points of view, and only degrees of violence and loss to choose from.

There are four young men at the center of this story, two Indians, a cowboy, and a German exchange student. Each bears a legacy of history that pulls them together in the single effort to rescue three horses. Meyers makes them come to life vividly through action, thought, and dialogue.

Around them is another dozen or so characters, just as carefully drawn and revealed through illuminating flashes of incident. And as in his other work, there is the continuing presence of the landscape and the seasons, as summer turns to autumn and snow-driven winter.

It is a multi-layered narrative where ironic parallels multiply and fascinating ambiguities abound. Especially interesting is the characterization of the young cowboy, whose ancestry in American literature dates back to Owen Wister's Virginian. Here is that same set of values, courage, pure-heartedness, and self-containment, 100 years later, set in conflict with a cunning villain. It is moving to learn what has become of him.

Photo image:

Coming up:  Adrian Louis, Skins


  1. I agree with Cheyenne. This novel sounds like it has it all.

  2. I just came across your blog for the first time and became a follower right away. My favorite is Western non-fiction, but I won't turn down a good novel!

    Speaking of depictions of the West in the arts and media, you might find my penultimate post on the California gold rush and American Indians as portrayed in 19th century opera on the 21st century stage to be of interest.