Review: Forlorn River, by Zane Grey

Forlorn River by Zane GreyForlorn River, by Zane Grey (first published by Harper & Brothers, 1927)

In the old west, Ben Ide is a wild horse hunter in Northern California. Cut off from his family because his father disapproves, 20-year-old Ben shares his homestead with two other cast-offs: his partner, who won’t speak of his past and goes by the nickname “Nevada,” and a Native American called “Modoc” (after his people).

Nevada and Modoc are fiercely loyal to Ben because he’s been kind to them, and their skills make the difference in the adventure of Forlorn River. It seems the only others who think well of Ben are his sister, Hettie, and his childhood sweetheart, Ina Blaine. And the sheriff, although rumours are flying that Ben’s a cattle rustler.

Ben’s and Ina’s fathers have recently struck it rich, and the money has gone to their heads. A shady character named Setter has worked his way into their dealings and turned them against one another. Now he wants to discredit Ben and steal his land, and he has his eye on Ina.

Forlorn River was first published in 1927, and although there’s a lot of action, the writing style makes it a gentle read. Zane Grey was a storyteller, far different from the current advice to “show, don’t tell.” His omniscient, distant point of view means the reader doesn’t engage as deeply into the story. Emotionally intense stories tire me (and sometimes frighten me away), and this one is a safe, solid read.

I was surprised by the amount of mild profanity in the novel. Not that I think people’s language was any cleaner back then, but since the book presents violence and sexuality in a restrained way with nothing explicit, the language really stands out.

Because it’s an older work, don’t look for political correctness in the wording. Modoc is a caricature in the way he speaks, and even good-hearted Ben makes some casual comments that would cause serious offense today.

Although the narrative is at times wordy, something about the story drew me in and I enjoyed it. The ending satisfies, and leads directly into the sequel, “Nevada.” Guess whose story that tells?

The Zane Grey Inc. site lists the author’s books and tells about his life.

[Review copy from the public library via inter-library loan.]

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