To the Last Man‘s Frantic Pace Blurs History

Rams feeding Zane Grey based his 1922 bestseller To the Last Man, on the “Pleasant Valley War,” a notorious feud in the Tonto Basin of Arizona.

Grey whips through the narrative scarcely giving readers time to turn the pages, which is probably just as well. Neither plot nor characterization can withstand much analysis.

Jean Isbel’s father summons him from Oregon to Pleasant Valley to champion the cattlemen’s rights against the sheepherders who are trying to force them out. Jean is on his way to the ranch when he falls in love at his first sight of Ellen Jorth. When she learns he’s son to her father’s worst enemy, Ellen hardens her heart against Jean.

Although the outline of the story is a predictable, romantic Western plot, the novel reveals as many explanations for the feud as there were participants. Some novelists could make such ambiguity seem natural, but here it feels like poor plot development.

Grey doesn’t do any better with his character development. He changes Ellen in a matter of months from a morose, self-absorbed teenager into a perceptive, rational woman. Maybe love could do that, but I find it unlikely.

To the Last Man will keep you turning pages, but it won’t create any lasting impression. I was reading the final chapter when I realized I’d read the novel before: It’s that forgettable.

To the Last Man
Zane Grey
Project Gutenberg ebook #2070
1922 Bestseller #9
My grade: B-

Photo credit: “Animal” by Darryl J Smith,Freelance Photographer, Ardlethan, NSW, Australia

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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