Monday, August 9, 2010

Kinda Gross

Lord Grizzly (Buckskin Man)Lord Grizzly by Frederick Manfred

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book I've been meaning to read for decades. My niece reminded me about it recently, when she was raving about it. It was handed about and admired in my family, and it's a fictionalized account of a bit of South Dakota history. And Manfred came and spoke in a literature class I took in college, so I feel sort of connected to him.

He's a great storyteller. His writing is very vivid, at times too much so. The time he is writing about includes a lot of fairly disgusting things -- early 19th century, frontier hygiene; festering wounds; eating of freshly killed and uncooked animals; maggots and lice; bloody battles in which men are scalped; buckskin clothing crusted with sweat, old food, blood, etc. I like that the author doesn't pretty it up for us, but it makes for an uncomfortable read, sometimes.

The main character, Hugh Glass, is presented as an experienced and careful mountain man with extraordinary resourcefulness. But he's not emotionally complicated. I liked the way Manfred wrote him as a whole person, with regrets and strong affections and blind spots and rage. But he didn't make him into a deep thinker, by any means. The author hints at some of the larger issues at work in the story, like the white trappers viewing the Indians as amoral for doing the same things that the white men were doing. Interestingly, we also see Glass railing internally against the settled East where he came from, which he thinks of as ruled by harpy-like women who force men into nice clothing and stifling jobs. But Manfred doesn't dig too deeply into these issues, so his story feels authentic. We're left to ponder the right and wrong of the characters' actions ourselves, which is just fine.

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