"Stations West" by Allison Amend

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Allison Amend brings us the multi-generational saga of the Haurowitzes in “Stations West,” published by the Louisiana State University. It covers the settlement and development of Oklahoma from territory to state from the late 19th Century through the years of the Great Depression. We follow the lives of Boggy Haurowitz and his descendants through settlement, oil and the dust bowl. It’s typical of generational sagas: it deals with long lives of the principals, and in this example, not much of those lives turns out very well.

Boggy’s grandson Garfield’s bitter, alienated narrative takes up a lion’s share of this story, but his stubbornness and irascibility and loneliness don’t seem completely grounded in his childhood experience. The women’s stories are of course more difficult, more subject to caprice, and more unjust. The stigma of having a child out of wedlock dooms one to a lifetime of servitude and yearning. Another’s deafness makes her somehow a match only for a simpleton. Garfield’s mother spends her entire life a whore, and dies alone in a Sierra Nevada winter.

The other chief “character” is the Oklahoma landscape, by turns dusty, barren, and dusty, filled with men with dust in the creases of their careworn faces. This narrative lays out the modest successes and grand tribulations of three generations of Oklahoma settlers, but delves deeply into the internal dialog none. Conflict tests and batters and alienates and sometimes kills the principals, but resolution to these conflicts is too often hopeless. A particular example: the disgraced and disfigured Dora, secretly the mother of an illegitimate child, who has pined after Garfield all her life, so thoroughly takes charge over his funeral arrangements that only then is she believed to be his wife.

Hardship, doggedness, and luck of all kinds will ever determine the path of people’s lives, and, in settling the American West in particular, these character traits and fortunes become displayed in high relief. We could look to Willa Cather for depth and focus in covering this ground. In any event, pioneer sagas will never be my particular cup of tea.
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