Lots of books affect me but it has been a while since I have read a book that when I got to the end of the book I wanted to start over from the beginning. Until today, when I finished The Virginian by Owen Wister. Last week I went to a talk by Amy Tam. A talented high school student introduced the MC. She said that she studied Amy Tam’s books to learn how to write. I want to do that with The Virginian. I can see myself becoming a Virginian scholar. If I was getting my MFA and had to do a senior project I would do it on The Virginian.
The Virginian was written in 1902 and is considered the first modern western and the inspiration for countless popular books and movies. I believe it, but I also believe that none of them quite meet the honesty that The Virginian conveys. Now that I think about it, honesty is a weird word since the Virginian makes a fine art out of lying. None the less, you will never meet a more honest man than the Virginian. (The name can get confusing for the Virginian is both the title of the book and the name of the main character. We never learn his real name.)
In a nutshell, the story is about a Wyoming cowboy with his roots in Virginia, who goes along and does his job to the best of his ability, which is a little better than everyone else. He falls in love with a school teacher from Vermont who is reluctant to return his feelings. All of these plots has been done before. It is the subplots in between, the way the Virginian conveys his opinion, and how he treats his fellow man that sets him apart and makes him a figure you wish you could ride the trail with.
This book is wonderful, horrible, hilarious, and disturbing. There is a demented chicken named Emily and a loyal horse called Monte. Very few people are what they first seem but others never change no matter how much you hope they will. Even the narrator learns much from the Virginian and so does the reader.
As often happens I wish I had read this book ten years ago so I would have read it many times by now. I guess I’ll have to make up for lost time. Don’t make my mistake. Start reading The Virginian today.
“When a man ain’t got no ideas of his own,” said Scipio, “he’d ought to be kind o’ careful who he borrows ’em from.”
― Owen Wister, The Virginian, a Horseman of the Plains