The Blind Corral

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Near the end of this richly realized contemporary Western, Jackson Heckethorn reads a novel, THE WRONG ACE, by an eccentric acquaintance: “The story was about a man who loved a place and a woman, and while he lost both, almost managed to keep himself intact. Set in the West and disguised as a hard-boiled detective novel, it was really a book about caring for things you couldn’t have.” THE BLIND CORRAL shares most of these characteristics.

Twenty-seven-year-old Jackson loves and loses two women. He also carries a load of guilt for youthful failures to support his family and, especially, for the lapse of attention which nearly killed him and did kill several of his friends during gunnery training in the army.

He returns to Montana after years of treatment for his head wound and mental illness. He plans a final visit before joining his fiancee in Canada. Quickly drawn into the lives of his father, his grandfather, and their old friends, he finds the choice to abandon his old life increasingly difficult.

He discovers that much of what he remembers about the land is already gone. The ranches around Helena are being developed into suburbs, vacation cabins, and, wrongheadedly, into an overgrazed cattle range. His once-vigorous grandfather, now dying, wants to pass his land to Jackson, but the developers are using money and pressure to take over open range and force out the smaller ranchers.

The struggle of urban developers against an established and respectable form of rural living is a contemporary Western version of a range war. Though the developers’ violence and injustice are less pronounced than is typical they still arouse Jackson’s anger, helping him to realize his love for the land and for his family’s way of life. As Jackson turns toward his family, his fiancee turns away from him.

Hard-boiled in tone and Western in theme, THE BLIND CORRAL is deeper and more complex than is usual in these popular forms. Though the book is about Jackson’s decision and presents a detailed portrait of Montana ranch life, it approaches the pace of action found in a good, traditional Western.