Friday, October 01, 2010

Review of Zane Grey's New Book: Union Pacific

How can Zane Grey have a "new book", since he died in 1939? His family, or his trust, has published his original, unedited manuscript of a book published in 1918.

This epic story barely falls short of Hawaii by James Michener and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Zane Grey's first historical novel brings romance and adventure to the building of the railroad across America, but also reveals the vices and intrigue that went along with it. I haven't read the 1918 version, The UP Trail, but I have read many of his other western stories. This original manuscript of historical fiction neither presents Grey's usual "super-heroes" nor does it give you "feel-good" romance. It does leave you eventually with an impression of abiding love and heroic perseverance through difficulties.

Like Charles Dickens, Zane Grey creates memorable characters, life-like people with full-bodied personalities who display weaknesses and strengths.

Unlike Michener's Hawaii, Union Pacific is not cosmopolitan. It focuses primarily on American white men. Although the Sioux Indians are, of course, enemies, the author shows us a brief glimpse of their perspective. But he gives only a passing nod to the black men and Chinese men who contributed to this great enterprise. Most of his white men are "no saints", but his interpretation of his Spanish villain Durade rankled me. I got the feeling that the author wanted us to believe Durade was villianous because of his Spanish blood. In further reflection, he may have meant that was the type of European who often came to the American West. If this were his thinking, I wish it were more clear.

The apparent prejudice toward white men is my only misgiving in recommending this book as fascinating historical fiction for adults and mature young adults.