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The Last Trail (2007)

The Last Trail (2007)

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3.78 of 5 Votes: 5
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142643801X (ISBN13: 9781426438011)

About book The Last Trail (2007)

I fear I may have spoiled Zane Grey for myself by reading the best book first. I've read Riders of the purple sage, then The call of the canyon, and now The last trail. The quality has been in steady decline. Grey's main failing, to my mind, is his inability to create characters that speak for themselves. The protagonists of his novels are not observed so much as constructed to fit a moral framework that the reader is then pressured to apply to the events described. Characters have all the appearance of actors from Central Casting: the leading men are pure, taciturn (perhaps nursing some deep hurt), mature and strong; the leading women are pure, loving, wise and resilient; there are dastardly villains, cold and dangerous but outwardly civil, or coarse and dissipated; villains with a sad history who may be redeemed at the last moment; and plenty of quaint and benign subsidiary characters. That is to say, all the clichés of the Hollywood Western genre which owes so much to Grey's fiction.One saving grace of The last trail is that Grey writes about nature in a genuinely appreciative way. Of course I can't test his knowledge of botany and natural history, since I've lived most of life in Australia and have never experienced the environment which he describes, but an undeniably strong sense of the natural world pervades the book. From biographical information it is plain that Grey was a man who travelled much in the wilder parts of the United States and knew the territory about which he wrote. His characters know the woods and the seasons and their knowledge informs their actions: "Bad time fer us, when the birds are so tame an' chipper. We can't put faith in them these days," said Wetzel. "Seems like they never was wild. I can tell, 'cept at this season, by the way they whistle an' act in the woods, if there's been any Injuns on the trails."The main action of The last trail is carried out by two "bordermen", Jonathon Zane and Lew Wetzel, who live hard lives on the trail, celibate as monks, for the sake of their calling, which is quite simply Indian-hunting (Indian-killing). Grey makes no excuses for the bordermen. The frontier must be cleared of its native inhabitants so God-fearing settlers can sleep safe in their beds, and readers must accept that as a given and enjoy the adventure. The native Americans are variously described as "the foes of civilization", "murderous", "red devils", and "fiendish". Their physicality is often praised ("the supple body peculiar to the savage"), and their courage is noted, but their hearts are invariably black: "Sinewy, muscular warriors they were, [...]. At first glance their dark faces and dark eyes were expressive of craft, cunning, cruelty and courage, all attributes of the savage." Their extermination is nothing more than a necessity. I think most modern readers would be uncomfortable with this, as I am. James Fenimore-Cooper's Leatherstocking novels present a much more nuanced and thoughtful outlook on the first Americans; not PC enough for some readers perhaps, but he engaged intelligently with the issue and his attitudes are still generally defensible today.The moral world of Grey's fiction is served up cut and dried: there are hard-working God-fearing Christian folk, many who have lost their way through drink or bad company (some of whom can be set back on the right path by the love of a good woman), the wicked and depraved, a few friendly or Christian Indians and lastly the heathen Indian who is scarcely human at all. Grey never preaches. Christian values just appear to be the only good values that he can conceive of, and thus so axiomatic that they need not be mentioned.I don't recommend The last trail. If you want to try Zane Grey, read Riders of the purple sage. That, with Mormons and rustlers for villains instead of Indians and renegades, is a much better novel.

Just after the American Revolution, in Fort Henry, in what we now call West Virginia, a woman falls in love with a vigilante outdoorsman. A gang of psychopathic outlaws decide that they want her for themselves, and are willing to do any desperate act in order to have her. As a result, her lover, Jonathan Zane, along with his partner Lew Wetzel (AKA Deathwind), are called one last time to perform "dark deeds of frontier justice." The Zane Grey catalogue is a mixed bag in its depiction of Native Americans, portraying them sympathetically only at times. Modern readers will likely be uncomfortable with how this particular book of his portrays the "savages," as they are called dozens of times in its pages. It goes beyond being politically incorrect, though it is that. I won't presume to speak for female readers, other than to say that feminists may find aspects of the book annoying, too. If you can look past the book's objectionable parts, you will find a story and characters that are good, but not anywhere near Zane Grey's best. The two-man vigilante team of Zane & Wetzel are very much old west superheroes, with knowledge, skill, and daring to rival Batman & Robin. They also reminded me of several Old Testament heroes, especially David & Jonathan. The Last Trail was the last of a three part series featuring Zane Grey's real ancestors fictionalized as heroes and heroines, and was the weakest of the three books. All three are in the public domain and can be downloaded free for your Kindle (or whatever you have), and there are even free audio versions online. Just google it. Part One is Betty Zane, and Part Two is Spirit Of The Border. If The Last Trail is your first time reading Zane Grey, please don't judge his whole career based on this one book. He wrote far better, including Riders Of The Purple Sage, considered by many western fans to be one of the genre's best novels ever.

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Frankly, I was surprised that I enjoyed The Last Trail so much. I have always thought of Grey as a man's writer so I was taken aback at the centrality of the romance in this book. Since it is vintage fiction, there are VERY negative stereotypes of American Indians and also the unfortunate use of the "n" word (once). But it was a rollicking good story.The women in the book are beautiful (but hardy) and teach Sunday School. The men cuss and kill injuns. But in spite of the stereotypes, the mild cussing, and the melodrama, I was hooked on the story from start to finish. Some of the dialogue is laugh out loud funny. Good vacation reading. And free on Kindle.

This is my second Zane Grey novel and I am surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Grey does a very good job with his story telling. I am impressed with his poetic descriptions of the wild west and with the complexity of the characters. I actually got caught up in the romance part of this story and found myself hoping that the Borderman would be charmed by and marry the new pioneer girl. The story is a good old-fashioned romance, with highly skilled heroes protecting the common folks by battling horse thieves and outlaw indians in the wild west! Yeee Haaww!
—Shawn Jack

The Last Trail by Zane Grey is a good example of American literature written in the early part of the last century. Traditions and family values play a large part in daily life. This book distinguishes between two types of frontiersmen, the pioneers and the border men. The first being settlers that move west into the Ohio River valley and the second the men that made the area secure from outlaws and local indignant Indian warriors. Love plays a large role in this story as it has in many stories both then and now. The descriptions of the endless wilderness sometimes tend to be a little over-flowery but fits in the novel and don’t distract from the story. The reader can’t help to think that much of what is mentioned and described is true to life on the frontier during the first two decades of U.S. history. Although it is set in an earlier time then most of Grey’s other work, I highly recommend it to all lovers of classical American history.
—Thom Swennes

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