Summary and book reviews of Savage Country by Robert Olmstead

Savage Country

A Novel

by Robert Olmstead

Savage Country by Robert Olmstead X
Savage Country by Robert Olmstead
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  • Published:
    Sep 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Gary Presley

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Book Summary

A gripping narrative of the infamous hunt which drove the buffalo population to near extinction--the story of a moment in our history in which mass destruction of an animal population was seen as the only route to economic solvency. And the intimate story of how that hunt changed two people forever.

"For weeks countless swarms of locusts, brown-black and brick-yellow, darkened the air like ash from a great conflagration, their jaws biting all things for what could be eaten."

In September 1873, Elizabeth Coughlin, a widow bankrupted by her husband's folly and death, embarks on a buffalo hunt with her estranged and mysterious brother-in-law, Michael. With no money, no family, no job or security, she hopes to salvage something of her former life and the lives of the hired men and their families who depend on her. The buffalo hunt that her husband had planned, she now realizes, was his last hope for saving their land.

Elizabeth and Michael plunge south across the aptly named Deadline demarcating Indian Territory from their home state, Kansas. Nothing could have prepared them for the dangers: rattlesnakes, rabies, wildfire, lightning strikes, blue northers, flash floods, threats to life in so many ways. They're on borrowed time: the Comanche are in winter quarters, and the cruel work of slaughtering the buffalo is unraveling their souls. They must get back alive.

From
Savage Country
By Robert Olmstead

Some distance from town he was met with the smell of raw sewage and creosote, the stink of lye and kerosene oil, the carrion of dead and slaughtered animals unfit for human consumption. He struck the mapped, vacant streets where there was a world of abandoned construction, plank shacks with dirt floors and flat-pitched roofs hedged with brambles and waste. Two cur dogs snarled at each other over a bone. Dead locust strewed the ground three inches deep.

The year was 1873 and all about was the evidence of boom and bust, shattered dreams, foolish ambition, depredation, shame, greed, and cruelty. Notes were being called in for pennies on the dollar. Money was scarce and whole families were pauperized.

For weeks countless swarms of locusts, brown-black and brick-yellow, darkened the air like ash from a great conflagration, their jaws biting all things for what could be eaten. They fed on the wheat and corn, the lint of seasoned fence planks, dry ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

There is a touch of Hemingway in the story's structure, more of Cormac McCarthy as it turns a cold eye toward the violence, all laced with spare stark sentences shaping images from our history too often obscured by myth. The book is an elegy for America created, a continent subdued by hard men, Colt revolvers, and Sharps rifles.   (Reviewed by Gary Presley).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This is a powerful depiction of the brutality of the Old West, where life was cheap and easily taken.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Another gorgeous, brutal masterpiece from a great American writer.

Author Blurb Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Robert Olmstead gets better with every book. If you know all of his previous books, you know how startling this fact is, and how startlingly good this writer is.

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Beyond the Book

The Homestead Act of 1862

Sod HouseIt's not mentioned specifically in Robert Olmstead's Savage Country, but his references to settlers driven off the land by crop failures, drought, and other factors might be seen as one of the adverse influences of 1862's Homestead Act, probably the most significant factor in the expansion of the United States across the continent.

Signed into law by Abraham Lincoln, the Act offered 160 acres of "public land" (meaning federal territory) to any head of household. The cost? Eighteen dollars. But there was a condition: "Each homesteader had to live on the land, build a home, make improvements and farm for 5 years before they were eligible to prove up."

Homestead ApplicationOlmstead's novel notes that many of those "homes" on a would-be settler's land were "...

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