I recently read two books back to back that prominently feature the American West, in two very different ways. The first was Molly Gloss' Falling From Horses, which is a straightforward and really touching story that follows the lives of two young people setting out to California to try to carve out a life for themselves in Hollywood - one as a screen writer and the other as a horse rider in Western movies. The year is 1938, and Lily Shaw and ranch hand Bud Frazer meet on the bus as they travel to Los Angeles for the first time, and ultimately become life long friends. We learn about Bud's difficult past regarding his sister and his family, and about his coming of age in Hollywood. It was the first book I read by Gloss, and I plan to try another one. The writing style reminded me in a way of Kent Haruf.
The second book was John Williams' Butcher's Crossing. Set in the 1870s, the book tells the story of young Will Andrews, who drops out of Harvard and heads West to explore his own "wildness" and learn more of the natural world. He finds himself in Butcher's Crossing, Kansas, where he decides to put together an outfit of four men who will travel on a buffalo hunt. The book perfectly captures the restlessness and sense of adventure of men in those times. The men encounter difficulties along the way, and ultimately end up snowed in, in a valley in the Colorado Rockies for the winter, as they were so caught up with the greed and excitement of killing buffalo that they lost track of time.
Both of these books caught me off guard - they were well written, captivating, and just plain old fashioned great story telling. Both are recommended!