Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mystery Ride’s concern with family life is a common theme is Boswell’s fiction. In novels such as Crooked Hearts (1987) and Dancing in the Movies (1987), he also explores the dynamics of family relationships. Yet given Boswell’s ability and curiosity in writing about very diverse characters and very different kinds of families, there is little more than a general similarity among the families in the novels.

A more interesting comparison may be to consider Mystery Ride in the context of other writers who are concerned with contemporary farm life. Although some of the action in Mystery Ride takes place in suburban and urban settings, it is the farm around which the characters gather, and they define themselves in relationship to it. Family life on the farm has long been an important subgenre of American literature, and the subject continues to be of interest to current novelists. Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (1991), Jim Harrison’s Farmer (1976), Douglas Unger’s Leaving the Land (1984), Martha Bergland’s A Farm Under a Lake (1989), and Don Kurtz’s South of the Big Four (1995) are a few of the better-known recent novels that explore the lives of characters living on farms. Like Boswell, these writers consider the tremendous changes occurring on the farm and look at the lives of farmers in original ways. Mystery Ride is an important part of this collection of novels that reconsiders what it means to be a farmer and work the land.

Mystery Ride also effectively reflects some important issues confronting teenagers. Especially in the character of Dulcie, and to some extent in those of Roxanne and Will, Boswell is able to portray the difficulties of growing up. One reviewer of the novel compared Dulcie to J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, as she is a kind of cutting-edge teenager faced with all the complexities of modern family life in the most progressive of American cities. It is interesting that Dulcie finds some kind of understanding and maturity through her experiences on the farm and as a witness to the realities of life and death in cows and in people.