Robert Lewis Taylor Michael Mewshaw - Essay

Michael Mewshaw

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"A Roaring in the Wind," Robert Lewis Taylor's 14th book, is described on its cover as a novel as well as a "History of Alder Gulch, Montana." But unfortunately it falls far short in both categories. At best it is a fitfully interesting miscellany of vignettes and facts about frontier life….

Taylor, with a weakness for mere cataloguing, does little to shape his material or to pace the accumulation of incidents. It takes more than 100 pages for him just to reach Alder Gulch and by the time he gets there, he seems to have forgotten why he made the trip. Perhaps he, like this reader, was distracted by the lackluster style of the historical journals and diaries from which he incessantly quotes. (p. 32)

One can't avoid noticing that the journals appear to have infected Taylor's own prose. To cite several examples among hundreds: "News of the arrest rolled like a prairie fire"; "Time, even a short time, is the only real healer"; "The miners cried like babies."

To compensate for lines like these, it would take a story of rare strength or characters of preternatural interest. But "A Roaring in the Wind" lacks both. (pp. 32-3)

In the American West, with its acres of emptiness and dinning silences, pioneers often lost their sense of time and direction. Robert Lewis Taylor … seems to have suffered the same fate, staggering through barren spaces, wandering in circles, never realizing that he has lost his way and his reader. (p. 33)

Michael Mewshaw, "Three Novels," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 5, 1978, pp. 32-3.∗