Riders of the Purple Sage Paperback – August 17, 2015
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- Item Weight : 12.6 ounces
- Paperback : 114 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-1516928217
- Product dimensions : 8.5 x 0.26 x 11 inches
- Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 17, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
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The beautifully filmed made-for-TV movie, also available as a DVD at Amazon, is almost better than the book. It stars Ed Harris and Amy Madigan and is so good that I watch it often.
Shoot, the opening chapter was pretty damn exciting and didn't hem or haw around about setting up the entire book: Elder Tull hates gentiles and wants to marry Jane, Jane likes gentiles and does NOT want to marry Tull, Elder Tull will ruin Jane's life if necessary, and Lassiter shoots Mormons. Here we freaking go!
But Grey drops the ball. He's at least aware of his weaknesses as a writer (the dialogue, oh goodness), but the exciting scenes are separated by loooong stretches of nothing. There are some interesting twists at the end, but they don't do much to cover the more problematic elements of the story. Biggest is probably the character Bess, who is basically a talking piece of scenery, and Mormons in general are given an uncomfortably broad stroke (the few 'good' ones usually have a guilt complex or are women, or both).
It's kinda fun, though. And while Grey can be an obnoxious trumpet of adjectives, adverbs, and other verbal upchuck, he does set alive a gorgeous, thundering scene every once in a while.
Jane Withersteen is a wealthy, Mormon, single woman living on a ranch in Utah. The elders and the bishop want her to marry a Mormon and stop having anything to do with the gentiles of the area. They continually ramp up the pressure until violence is the only way out. She is befriended by the Mormon-hating gunman Lassiter when he saves her friend Venters from a whipping and worse.
We get classic romantic Western tropes like "Ventners laughed in cool disdain" [loc 109] and fainting damsels: "She leaned against him, and her body was limp and vibrated to a long, wavering tremble" [loc 2076] At first I was put off by this but then realized this was written in 1912 so I accepted (and grew to enjoy) the romantic characterizations.
I had more difficulty with the dialog. I recall Danny Deck, the author protagonist in Larry McMurtry's "All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers" reflect that he had difficulty with nature descriptions but feels strong when he gets his characters talking. I think Zane Grey is the opposite. We get awkward and passive passages such as "I watched him with eyes which saw him my friend" [loc 393] and "When his eyes unclosed, day had come again" [loc 725]. Why not just: "When his eyes opened"? And I'm not even sure what this sentence means: "She believed fate had thrown in her way the lover or husband of Milly Erne." [loc 1137].
But get Zane Grey out in the countryside and we see his real strength - beautiful descriptions of nature. "Half a mile down the slope they entered a luxuriant growth of willows, and soon came into an open space carpeted with grass like deep green velvet. The rushing of water and singing of birds filled their ears. Venters led his comrade to a shady bower and showed him Amber Spring. It was a magnificent outburst of clear, amber water pouring from a dark, stone-lined hole." [loc 539].
As the novel progressed the writing becomes less awkward; perhaps Grey just needed to warm up a bit.
I also took issue with some of the narrative. Venters found a beautiful valley after climbing up steps hacked into stone by the cave dweller Native Americans (Sinagua?) who had been there ages ago. He had to take his boots and guns off to get over this part of the trail, but he later was able to hoist a calf on his shoulder and make the same climb.
[Warning: spoiler alert] Given that this is a romantic novel - as in pastoral depiction of nature - I was unhappy with the ending. While the four main characters come out fine, Jane Withersteen had to sacrifice her ranch. I was impressed by the straightforward way Grey approached the Mormon issues and opinions of the day (1910's). He was also a forward thinker having such a strong woman character.
[End Spoiler alert]
All-in-all, if you approach this novel on its terms rather than modern terms of a century later, you may find you enjoy it.
This book is in the public domain and there are a few options for reading it. I paid $0.99 for one e-book edition which was unreadable due to its formatting. The one I finally read (another $0.99) was better but the chapters didn't seem to be numbered correctly. After a quick review, I think the free (e-book) version http://www.amazon.com/Riders-Purple-Sage-Zane-Grey-ebook/dp/B004TP5JXA would be the better bet. None have page numbers.
Top reviews from other countries
Riders of the Purple Sage isn't a bad book, as such - it's just not very good. My overriding feeling towards it is that there was a lot of tell but not much show. Everything that happens in the novel seems to happen 'off screen'. The mysterious gunslinger - who is, let's face it, not quite Shane - seems to slope around the place and say more than he should but, when it comes to doing what he's renowned for (and this, not to mince words, is killing Mormons - obviously something to do with the time), you never witness it first-hand. Usually, it seems, the character of Jane faints at the thought of him shooting someone, then wakes up to have one of the ranch hands tell her what happened. And it's so patently obvious how their relationship is going to go that all the hand-wringing, drawn-out, bash-your-head-against-the-wall internal monologues made me want to, well, bash my head against the wall. I'm not a fan of this kind of writing. And, even moreso, I dislike it when characters wonder around talking to themselves, with copious exclamation marks (which just makes me think they're shouting). Who does this in real life? Aaargh!
Anyway, in a subplot that seems to take up most of the book, one of Jane's ranch hands, a Gentile, goes off in search of one of her herds of cattle, which has been rustled for nefarious reasons. In the process he finds a woman in a pseudo-Garden of Eden load of old tosh. Ooh, guess what's going to happen? Yawn.
Character development is virtually non-existent. The contrived plot is so convenient in its 'twists' that it beggars belief. The dialogue is either unintentionally hilarious or just plain awful. The women are just there to get in trouble and be rescued by the men. The bad guys get no attention at all, they're just bad and forever in the background - there's no sense of menace or tension at all. And the end - good grief, the title of the last chapter gives away exactly what is going to happen, even if you were too dense to have worked it out beforehand (which I wasn't, for a change).
I'm sure this was all fine at the time - the novel is a century old, after all, and I really should take that into account - but it near bored me to tears! Fortunately it's less than 300 pages long! It could've been less than 30 pages long and still told the same story, and I'd've liked it a whole heck of a lot more! But -- oh my! He couldn't do that, could he? That'd be right improper, I'd say! My heavens, I might've died! Using copious exclamation marks!
Not for me, I'm afraid.
The characters lack any real depth, especially the two idealised heroes Lassiter and Venters - Jane Withersteen and Bess Oldring, the heroines, are more convincingly drawn. As another reviewer remarks, Grey's limitations in handling dialogue is a good deal responsible for this. Lassiter's background as a gunman is suggested no further than continual focus on his shooting irons, often it seems in a more sexual context than in a killing one. Parallels and contrasts between the two men and the two women are clear but lack any dynamic. The academic introduction - I always leave introductions until after reading the book - places the book historically and in terms of previously popular themes, but is dry and involves no serious qualitative evaluation.
I found reading this novel far from what I had expected via the work of McMurtry, L'Amour, Edison, Forrester et al and I certainly wouldn't mention Grey in in the same breath as Cormac McCarthy. Admittedly it is a lot earlier than most here, but western films also offer no clues as to what to expect. None, it seems to me, from "High Noon"and the Wayne films, to Peckinpah and Serge Leone prepare the reader for what he/she encounters here.
There are some powerfully lyrical passages, though they seem not to grow from the close observation of the actual world. Rather they are impregnated with often heavily biblical overtones or are the counterparts of the emotional turmoil in the action. There is much sentimentality mixed with this kind of romanticism, which extends far beyond Venters' dogs. In all a curious experience, not in the last analysis satisfying for this particular reader - the novel seems much longer than it is - but idiosyncratic enough to invite further sampling of Grey.
Zane Grey's evocation of landscape - the canyons and purple sage of Utah - is superb, and his lengthy descriptions of the secret valley, its wildlife and weather, and Venters' struggle to survive in it, show a joy in nature which is almost mystical. I loved this part of the book. I found the plot intriguing but ultimately absurd, and the dialogue unconvincing.
I would recommend this book. It's well worth reading for the `lost valley' story, the mystery, and the wonderful descriptive passages.