no clue about “who, where, when, how, and why.” A. B. Guthrie’s “The Big Sky” begins with a vivid description of the Missouri River, but all the editor tells us by way of orientation is that Guthrie was writing during a time called “the mountain men era” of American history, whatever that is, and was influenced by the journals of Lewis and Clark. Huser notes that “The Big Sky” became a movie but never says when. Only when I flipped back to the unalphabetized \(\(permissions and acknowledgments” page did I find that “The Big Sky” was published in 1947. Further confusing the matter is the introduction of the character Jourdonnais. And then Lisa. Then Janette. And then Summers. Who in God’s name are these people? I have no ideaand that’s just what I mean. There is no effort to prep the reader for even the most basic elements of the excerpted narrative. The reason for this confusion is that, quite bluntly, these pieces were not edited to fit into a coherent volume. They were just excerpted, and probably not even re-read. That’s a strong charge, I know, but how else to account for this sentence, left in Sigurd F. Olson’s “The Lonely Land”? “The quotations preceding each chapter and interspersed throughout are taken mostly from diaries of a number of men who traveled the route between 1770 and 1780:’ You see, the reference is to the rest of Olson’s book, the book from which this piece was excerpted. It has no relevance whatsoever to River Reflections. It was left in because River Reflections, quite simply, was thrown together in a rush. There are so many more signs of sloppiness that it’s hard to know where to begin, and a full catalog of them would be misanthropic. But just a couple of parting shots. There’s a strong sign of editorial intervention in Tom Brokaw’s rather chilling essay called “The River Swallows People” when Huser pulls a “sic” out of his pocket: “For the raft Spaulding hired Ken Smith, a 26-yearold Marine veteran of Vietnam who was his studies at San Jose State.” But the correction seems gratuitous when so many others are overlooked, that is, when someone “has another think coming;’ or even when Huser himself refers to a writer as “the unquestionable historian of Idaho River.” Part One, “The Classics” is interrupted 17 pages into the book by another section called “River Crossings” in which, in many cases, no river crossings occur, and by Page 24 we are done with “crossings” and reach “The Big Sky” with no guidance as to what section this and the stories that follow fall under. In a word, confusing, which is especially too bad in a book that features writers like John Graves writing sober sentences like, “When someone official dreams up a dam, it generally goes in:’ Indeed, if there is a productive single theme in this volume it is the environmental consequences of damming. But these reflections are too obstructed, too cluttered, too desiccated to flow toward any kind of productive conclusions. James E. McWilliams crosses the San Marcos River, a little gem, when he goes to work at Texas State University. MAY 19, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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