Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 121-127
From the agoraphobic prairie where the father of Willa Cather's Antonia kills himself, to the claustrophobic North Dakota town of Argus devastated by storm in Louise Erdrich's "Fleur," to Lightning Flat, the grim home of Jack Twist in Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," much Great Plains literature is situational, placing human drama in the context of historicalor contemporary setting. Isolation, fierce weather, and inherent pressures on survival remain primary, and the Plains is a character in itself that appears as a presence, whether foregrounded or ghostly, in works that cannot help but evoke the Great Plains then and now. The Plains' presence is well documented in literary studies of major and minor Plains authors, and in overviews such as Diane Quantic's The Nature of the Place. Much less attention has been paid to the Great Plains in popular fiction beyond the study of Western novels. Two contemporary novels, both part of widely popular series that are well received critically, demonstrate how well the Great Plains' physical situation itself, as well as its own history of bloody behavior, dialogues with classic components of horror fiction.
This receptivity to the syntax of horror enables these writers' contemporary horror thrillers to generate dialogue between their genre conventions and Great Plains' history and geography. E. E. Knight's post-apocalyptic Choice of the Cat (2004) chiefly dialogues with Plains past, evoking the elements of frontier and pioneer Westerns in a speculative context that also relies on Plains space. Still Life with Crows (2003), by the writing duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, establishes a more wholly satisfying interaction with both Plains physicality and culture that becomes a narrative of healing as well as violence.