John Fox Jr.’s Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come was on the 1903 and 1904 bestseller list. His The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was on the lists in 1908 and 1909. By 1913, readers were ready for a new novel by the popular author.
Fox obliged with The Heart of the Hills.
The story concerns two pairs of cousins, one pair bred from the the feuding Hawns and Honeycutts of the Cumberland Mountains, the other carrying the more genteel bloodline of the Blue Grass. Fox repeatedly drags the cousins up the mountains and back down so they and readers can see the vast difference between the two cultures.
That’s about all readers see.
The characters are rudely drawn, the plot so disjointed it reads like Fox dropped the manuscript and failed to get the pages back in the right order before publication.
The story is padded out with long passages about Kentucky politics, the importance of education for the development of the frontier, and the disastrous impact tobacco had on the state’s environment and economy.
There’s little here to attract today’s reader.
The Heart of The Hills
by John Fox, Jr.
With Four Illustrations By F. C. Yohn
1913 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg EBook #5145
My grade C-
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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
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