Caroline Fraser ‘s most recent book, Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution, was published in December. (May 2010)

‘A Strange, Bloody, Broken Beauty’

“What are Americans like today?” John Steinbeck set out to answer that question in Travels with Charley, his 1962 travelogue, but it had been a theme of his fiction, as it had been a theme of many works by American writers loosely labeled naturalists. It was not a query of …

Confidence Games

“The novel became my game,” writes Maureen Howard in an essay in The New York Times. “We are in this game together,” she goes on, defining “reading, real reading” as a “strenuous and pleasurable contact sport.”[^*] The theme of reading and writing as a game is pervasive in her work, …

Heart of Darkness

Joyce Carol Oates, author of some forty novels (nine written under an assumed name), twenty short story collections, six novellas, eight volumes of poetry, seven of plays, and nine of essays, may be our most prolific contemporary writer. She may also be our most critically confounding. Hosts of reviewers have …

Customs of the Country

Born in 1935, in Norwich, Connecticut, the eldest of five daughters of George Napoleon Proulx, vice-president of a textile company, and Lois Nelly Proulx, a painter and naturalist whose family had lived in Connecticut since 1635, Annie Proulx grew up in towns throughout New England. She graduated with a degree …

The Mormon Murder Case

On September 11, 1857, one hundred and twenty men, women, and children—members of a wagon train party traveling west from Arkansas—were slaughtered in a valley in southwestern Utah, an event now known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Until the 1985 Oklahoma City bombing and the events of September 11, 2001, …

Pretty in the Sunlight

Toward the end of Lonesome Dove, the aging Texas Ranger Augustus McCrae scouts ahead of his cattle herd with the stolid hand Pea Eye. At the Yellowstone River, Gus mystifies his companion by chasing after a herd of buffalo: “Kill any?” Pea asked. “No, I wasn’t hunting,” Augustus …

Overachiever

“When we do not know a person—and also when we do—we have to judge the size and nature of his achievements as compared with the achievements of others in his special line of business—there is no other way. Measured by this standard, it is thirteen hundred years since the world …

Far from Babar

Barbara Gowdy’s new novel, The White Bone, opens at a fateful moment, when a family fails to recognize “glaring omens” of impending catastrophe because it is preoccupied in arguing over the proper name for an adopted daughter. The daughter’s childhood nickname is Mud, and she is an elephant. A Canadian …

The Revenge of Everest

On September 13, 1992, The New York Times ran an Associated Press story with the headline, “Dying in the Wild, A Hiker Recorded the Terror.” The remains of an unidentified man, who had apparently been injured and stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, had been discovered along with a cryptic journal …

Mortal Longings

In 1986, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston mounted an exhibition called “The Bostonians: Painters of an Elegant Age, 1870-1930.” It collected formal portraits, landscapes, and still lifes by the renowned painters of the Boston School: Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, William Paxton, Edmund Tarbell, and the prince of the …

Mrs. Eddy Builds Her Empire

Americans have always been besotted with the power of the individual. This preoccupation has taken many forms—political, social, and religious—but one form has survived virtually intact, changing only the superficial spots of its rhetoric: the notion that everyone has the power to heal himself of whatever physical, fiscal, or spiritual …

The Prairie Queen

“No one who has not pioneered can understand the fascination and the terror of it.” Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote these words. They appear on a historical plaque by the side of South Dakota State Highway 25, a mile and a half north of the town of De Smet. The plaque …