Great Plains

by Ian Frazier

Hardcover, 1989

Status

Available

Publication

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (1989)

Description

A journey through the vast and myth-inspiring empty plains

User reviews

LibraryThing member delphica
I like the other things I've read by Ian Frazier, in large part because I'm generally a sucker for ruminations on American identity issues.

This one is focused on the Great Plains, obviously. Weirdly, I didn't know when it was published, but by the first 1/3 through, I was thinking to myself that it sounds, in my head, very 80s. It was 89, as it happens. I'm still not clear on what made it so obviously 80s to me.

Frazier is a New Yorker who as an adult transplanted himself to the middle of America and so has that observant and somewhat obsessive approach that people can get toward things they love but to which they are not native.

He covers a lot of historical periods, one of which is the Indian wars (although I liked these chapters, he was messing around with a weird stylistic thing which I think was supposed to be reminiscent of traditional native story-telling but didn't work very well), and in addition to being a New Yorker who is obsessed with the Great Plains, he's also a white guy obsessed by Indians (further covered in other books), but he's very self-aware about it and always puts it out there as something to be assessed. One of the topics he covers is the Cult of Crazy Horse, and in college I was full-blown into this, let me tell you. And it is a funky thing, I mean, why Crazy Horse when there were other Indians who were crazier, (come on, you know it's so tempting to follow up with "or horsier") or more successful, or more peaceful, or more not peaceful, or who had longer, more significant careers and more influential leadership roles. I especially liked this passage where Frazier articulates why Crazy Horse is so iconic:

Personally, I love Crazy Horse because even the most basic outline of his life shows how great he was; because he remained himself from the moment of this birth to the moment he died; because he knew exactly where he wanted to live and never left; because he may have surrendered, but he was never defeated in battle; because, although he was killed, even the Army admitted he was never captured; because he was so free that he didn't know what a jail looked like; because at the most desperate moment of his life he only cut Little Big Man on the hand; because, unlike many people all over the world, when he met white men he was not diminished by the encounter; because his dislike of the oncoming civilization was prophetic; because the idea of becoming a farmer apparently never crossed his mind; because he didn't end up in the Dry Tortugas; because he never met the President; because he never rode on a train, slept in a boardinghouse, ate at a table; because he never wore a medal or a top hat or any other thing that white men gave him; because he made sure that his wife was safe before going where he expected to die; because although Indian agents, among themselves, sometimes referred to Red Cloud as "Red" and Spotted Tail as "Spot," they never used a diminutive for him; because, deprived to freedom, power, occupation, culture, trapped in a situation where bravery was invisible, he was still brave; because he fought in self-defense, and took no one with him when he died; because, like the rings of Saturn, the carbon atom, and the underwater reef, he belonged to a category of phenomena which our technology had not then advanced far enough to photograph; because no photograph or painting or even sketch of him exists; because he is not the Indian on the nickel, the tobacco pouch, or the apple crate.

Grade: B, ish
Recommended: It's not the best by this author, but if you like him, or if you have a particular interest in the Great Plains (although really, who doesn't?) this is a pleasant read.
… (more)
LibraryThing member wareagle78
Written by someone with an obvious love for and facination with the geography, history and lore of the Great Plans, Frazier made me want to spend a year exploring its vastness.
LibraryThing member Jared_Runck
Having recently completed "Bad Lands" by Jonathan Raban, I found it impossible not to constantly compare the two works. Raban's work is much more focused on a particular time period, where Frazier seems to move (quite seamlessly) from Native American days to modern times to the early '20s to the era of westward expansion. I would describe Frazier as more "evocative" than Raban and, in that capacity, perhaps he is MORE successful at a style of writing that honors the horizontal vastness that is the Great Plains.

Really, I found Frazier at his best when he rambled...into the story of the death of Crazy Horse or of his visit to a Montana nuclear missile silo (and the attendant story of America's nuclear race with Russia) or of his discovery of the still-extant ghost-town of Nicodemus, Kansas.

As with most of the books I've read recently, I've been going at this by fits and starts with sizable time-gaps (sometimes weeks) between each rather brief encounter. But this is a book that rewards even that kind of intermittent reading and its easy rambling style almost best suits that sort of reading.

I picked up this book because it is about my home (born in Nebraska), and I am coming to realize more and more the formative impact of "place" upon who we are (this may also explain my fascination in my biblical studies with the effect of exile upon the national and spiritual identity of ancient Israel). I suppose the greatest recommendation I could give it is that, whenever I got the chance to pick it up again, within just a few minutes, I found myself transported again to a windswept rolling expanse of ruler-straight corn-rows, swaying grasses, and skies as blue and open as the wondering-eyes of a child. In other words, Frazier gave me the gift of home.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Welshwoman
This book is romantic and elegiac. His accounts of Crazy Horse's life and death, the people he meets and the vast, unpeopled plains he travels across remain in the memory.
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Eh. As one who grew up on the edge of the plains and has traveled across them many times, I guess it's ok my perspective differs from that of a NYC journalist.
LibraryThing member shelbycassie
This is a very good book about the Great Plains as it was and the natives who were there first. I read this book while in the Great Plains which made it more exciting.
LibraryThing member TheWasp
Lots of interesting facts for someone who has never been there. Easy to read.
LibraryThing member Jared_Runck
Having recently completed "Bad Lands" by Jonathan Raban, I found it impossible not to constantly compare the two works. Raban's work is much more focused on a particular time period, where Frazier seems to move (quite seamlessly) from Native American days to modern times to the early '20s to the era of westward expansion. I would describe Frazier as more "evocative" than Raban and, in that capacity, perhaps he is MORE successful at a style of writing that honors the horizontal vastness that is the Great Plains.

Really, I found Frazier at his best when he rambled...into the story of the death of Crazy Horse or of his visit to a Montana nuclear missile silo (and the attendant story of America's nuclear race with Russia) or of his discovery of the still-extant ghost-town of Nicodemus, Kansas.

As with most of the books I've read recently, I've been going at this by fits and starts with sizable time-gaps (sometimes weeks) between each rather brief encounter. But this is a book that rewards even that kind of intermittent reading and its easy rambling style almost best suits that sort of reading.

I picked up this book because it is about my home (born in Nebraska), and I am coming to realize more and more the formative impact of "place" upon who we are (this may also explain my fascination in my biblical studies with the effect of exile upon the national and spiritual identity of ancient Israel). I suppose the greatest recommendation I could give it is that, whenever I got the chance to pick it up again, within just a few minutes, I found myself transported again to a windswept rolling expanse of ruler-straight corn-rows, swaying grasses, and skies as blue and open as the wondering-eyes of a child. In other words, Frazier gave me the gift of home.
… (more)

Language

Original language

English

Barcode

6681
Page: 0.2021 seconds